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Genetically Modified Organisms: Somerset

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what plant breeding methods were used to produce the GM-contaminated oilseed rape seeds in Somerset in 2008; (250020)

(2) at what location GM-contaminated oilseed rape seeds were grown in Somerset in 2008;

(3) whether the variety of GM-contaminated oilseed rape seeds grown in Somerset in 2008 was (a) listed on and (b) awaiting approval for the National List of Varieties;

(4) what the country of origin was of the GM-contaminated rape seeds grown in Somerset in 2008;

(5) what steps were taken to protect against the GM-contamination of the oilseed rape seeds found to be contaminated with GM material grown in Somerset in 2008 (a) during cultivation and (b) post-harvest;

(6) whether the areas immediately surrounding the GM-contaminated oilseed rape seeds grown in Somerset in 2008 have been examined for potential GM-contamination.

The affected trial grown in Somerset was of a new variety of conventionally bred, open-pollinated oilseed rape. The seed was imported from the USA with a view to being grown in various trials in the UK. This included national list trials, for which an application was made a year after the Somerset trial was sown. However, these did not take place and the variety has been withdrawn from the national list process. The trial in Somerset was carried out privately on behalf of the company that owns and imported the seed.

The conventional seed had a low level of GM seed mixed within it (0.05 per cent. or one in every 2,000 seeds), of a type approved by the European Union for food and animal feed use, but not for cultivation. It did not become known that the seed planted in Somerset had this GM content until after the trial had been harvested. As such, no measures were applied during cultivation to limit the potential dispersal of GM material. After harvest the farmer contracted to grow the trial left the ground fallow and let his livestock graze on emerging oilseed rape ‘volunteer’ plants (those that grow from seed shed at harvest). The farmer is being advised by the GM Inspectorate on the best way to further manage and reduce any volunteers. Given the low level of GM seed originally sown and the farmer's action post-harvest, it is not expected that GM volunteers will be a significant issue.

A separate trial of a different variety of conventional oilseed rape was grown immediately adjacent to the affected trial crop by the same farmer. Testing indicates that as a result of cross-pollination this adjacent crop acquired a very low adventitious GM presence (less than 0.01 per cent.). No other crops were grown in the vicinity of the affected trial, including on neighbouring farms, that might have been subject to GM cross-pollination. In this situation, it is not proposed to monitor the local area for potential contamination. The accidental sowing of the GM seed has not posed any risk to human health and the environment, and nor should there be any economic prejudice to neighbouring farmers through possible cross-pollination.

The affected trial took place within the south Somerset district council area. We do not think it would be appropriate to disclose the precise location, in part because it might deter people from coming forward with information about potential unauthorised GM releases, which would not be in the public interest. However, we are currently considering requests to release the exact location under the Environmental Information Regulations.