The Somerset incident – key questions

Key questions for GM investigation following oilseed rape contamination.

The campaign group GM Freeze has written to Defra Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, setting out the key questions which need to be answered in any investigation of the contamination of an oilseed rape crop in Somerset last year.

Defra reported the incident just before Christmas. It followed a similar incident in Scotland when oilseed rape seed (part of National List trials for a new non-GM variety) was found to be contaminated. Defra revealed that the Somerset field was 0.9ha in size and that the contamination involved Monsanto’s Gt73 GM trait at a level of around 0.05%.This means that over 50,000 GM plants were grown in the field which would have matured to produce GM seeds.

It is illegal to grow GM crops in the EU without a marketing consent which covers cultivation. GT73 has no such consent. Somerset County Council has adopted a policy to keep the county GM-free and had responded to Defra’s 2006 consultation on the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops. It appears the County Council has not been informed by Defra of the location of the contaminated field.

Amongst the key questions which GM Freeze says need urgent answers are:

  • What was the location of the contaminated field?
  • How many non-GM and GM volunteer plants have been found in the field?
  • How many GM seeds were found in the soil?
  • What was the proximity of other non-GM oilseed rape crops to the field?
  • What levels of GM seed and volunteers have been found in neighbouring crops within pollinating distance of the contaminating crop?
  • What method of breeding of the conventional oilseed rape was used? Would this affect its potential to be cross pollinated and therefore contaminated with GM?
  • What was the country of origin of the sown seed?
  • What measures were taken by the seed company to ensure that no GM contamination took place in the field (eg, separation distances to the nearest GM crop or barriers) and pre-sowing and post–harvest.
  • What monitoring of GM content of the seeds was undertaken on import of the seed lot or prior to sowing? With what results?
  • Who is responsible for the GM contamination and therefore liable to deal with any economic or environmental harm arising from it now and in future years?
  • What measures will be needed to ensure that no further flowering of volunteers arising from shed GM seed will take place in the contaminated field and neighbouring fields to ensure that the GM seed bank disappears completely? How long will these measures need to be deployed?
  • What measures are required to prevent future incidents and further contamination, including the use of import bans on countries where risk is high?

GM Freeze wants the report of the investigation to be published as soon as possible so that farmers who want to sow spring oilseed rape can minimize that risk of GM contamination by avoiding seeds which might be contaminated based on the country of origin and seed company.


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