One of the worst fears of campaigners against genetically
modified crops has almost come true.
An experimental crop of oilseed rape that was altered to be
resistant to herbicides has had to be destroyed after it
pollinated nearby plants.
The fear was that, left unchecked, a new breed of superweeds
which normal chemicals could not destroy might have resulted
with devastating effects for Britains agriculture.
Now, in what could be the first case of its kind in the UK,
the Government is considering prosecuting the America
chemical giant behind the experiment for allegedly
contaminating the environment.
If convicted, Monsanto, the world's leading producer of
genetically modified foods and British based sub-contractor
Perryfields Holdings Ltd face heavy fines. Monsanto's
directors, headed by chairman and chief executive, Bob
Shapiro, could even be jailed if found to have been
The companies were ordered by the Agriculture Ministry to
dig up and destroy a field of oilseed rape, which is used in
the production of magerine and vegetable oils, on a 1,000
square metre Government licensed site. All seeds harvested
over the next two years within a 50-metre radius of the
site, at Rothwell in Lincolnshire, will also be ditched.
The Department of the Environment, Transport and the
Regions, headed by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, will
decide son whether to initiate prosecution under the 1992
Genetically Modified Organisms Regulations. A spokesman said
the case was "too sensitive" to discuss.
Minutes of a recent meeting of the Advisory Committee on
Releases to the Environment reveal that Monsanto and
Perryfields failed to prevent genetically modified winter
oilseed rape cross-pollinating with another field of their
normal oilseed rape. A pollen barrier, or buffer zone, of
only two metres instead of the required six surrounded the
The minutes say that "a breach of consent occurred" and show
that Monsanto officials had not visited the trail site even
though it was the company's duty to do so.
Tony Strickland, trials manager for Perryfields Holdings, of
Inkberrow, Hereford and Worcester, said, " We expect to be
prosecuted. A path was put around the test area and those on
site overlooked the fact that the pollen barrier was then
too small. This increased the risk of cross-pollination"
He added that new rules this winter would ensure that such
sites operated under much stricter conditions.
A Monsanto spokesman said,"We do not want to comment about a
case that is pending with the Ministry, but to the best of
our knowledge no breach of consent has led to environmental
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