ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

18 August 2002


From: "ToGG" <>
Organization: Totnes GenetiX Group


Illegal Dorset GM Rape Trial Decontaminated: Over a dozen arrested for 'criminal' damage

News Release - 18th August 2002
Contact number - 07956 334831 or 01300 348420
Interviews available, along with digital photos and video

Today (Sunday 18th August), a group of fifty or more ordinary people met to don protective clothing and remove an illegal public nuisance - the farmscale trial of GM oilseed rape in Hilton Dorset. The field is one of at least 15 at which an unlicensed release of antibiotic resistant rape has been found.

Legal action may be taken against the company for allowing this unlawful release but it seems unlikely as large corporations are rarely held accountable for illegal activities. However, pulling up the crops was deemed to be illegal and around a dozen people were arrested.

Around twenty police officers, four vans, six cars, police dogs, and a helicopter attended the demonstration that had hastily been organised in reaction to the news about the contamination. One of those arrested is a (ex)genetist - others attending included local organic farmers, solicitors, a doctor, gardeners, teachers, grandmothers and local councillors. They carefully baged up the seed pods, to be left for Bayer or DEFRA to disposs of.

Blunders by the biotech company responsible (German chemical giant Bayer, new owners of Aventis Cropscience), resulted in at least 25 of the farmscale trials since 1999 being planted with almost 3% of the unapproved seeds which contain an antibiotic resistant marker gene. Aventis was first informed of the problem in June and quick and decisive action at that time could have removed the threat prior to pollination. However Aventis did not inform the government untill a few days ago.

The government quickly announced that it would suspend the planting of the final trials (which were due to be sown next week) until the purity of the seed could be assured. However while they admit the failure is a significant one and is damaging to the credibility of the farmscale evaluations, they continue to resist calls to abandon the final phase of the trial. They have said that the unlawful crops will be destroyed but are taking no immediate action. The longer the crops remain in the ground, the longer they will shed potentially hazardous reproductive pollution into the environment.

One of the protesters, Sam Regis said;  "How can we trust the biotech industry with the future of our food when they can't even run a experiment safely? When the government chooses to represent the interests of industry over those of the people, we have a duty to remove whatever we can of these illegally GM plants. By doing so we hope to reduce the risk that the antibiotic resistant trait will be taken up by other organisms."

Local mum Claire Taylor said: "These trials aren't about establishing the safety of GM crops, they don't examine the creation of herbicide resistant superweeds, or the effect of an incompetent and unpredictable biotechnology industry on our agriculture. They're an amateurish investigation into the effect of spraying insects. What will it take for the government to admit that they're a threat which must be immediately abandoned? We must start to limit the damage now by cancelling all further planting and banning the growing of related species on land which has contained these antibiotic resistant crops."
Bill Posters, from Weymouth said "The trials are widely recognised as a farce - a waste of time and money and an unnecessary risk to our environment. They should be abandoned. Any information required about the effects of growing GM crops can be obtained by looking to the US, and Canada, were they have been grown commercially for several years. These real life situations show that in practise, growing GM increases the use of chemical herbicides, creates and spreads superweeds, and has failed to provided the promised economic returns for farmers."


Editors notes:

Antibiotic resistant genes have been used extensively in crop genetic engineering as a selectable marker. Selectable markers are used in the laboratory to identify cells or embryos that bear the genetic modifications that the engineer wishes to commercialize. Thereafter the genetically modified organism has the antibiotic resistant gene in each and every one of its cells.
The OSR trials are contaminated with a variety of seed resistant to the antibiotic Kanamycin. This antibiotic is still used medicinally and it is know to cross-react with other related antibiotics. Kanamycin is a member of the family aminoglycoside antibiotics. Cross resistance between Kanamycin and other aminoglycosides including streptomycin, gentamycin and tobramycin has been recorded. All of the antibiotics mentioned are used to treat human diseases. Along with cross resistance to aminoglycoside antibiotics, pathogenic bacteria frequently develop multiple drug resistance transmitted on a single plasmid, and aquire plasmids with multiple antibiotic resistance genes in areas where the antibiotics are used extensively.
Kanamycin is used prior to endoscopy of colon and rectum and to treat ocular infections. It is used in blunt trauma emergency treatment and has been found to be effective against E coli 0157 without causing release of verotoxin. Extensive use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in genetically modified crops is shortsighted.

Many scientists have expressed concern that the gene may leak out into the environment, and particularly to bacteria. This could make the bacteria resistant to antibiotics and so make it difficult for doctors to treat infections. The biotech companies claim there is virtually no chance of this happening but admits it is possible.

It was an agricultural college in Scotland discovered that GM crops that it had planted for Aventis/Bayer were contaminated by another strain of GM seeds, which had an antibiotic-resistance gene. They informed Aventis in early June. Subsequent tests on other sites found that a total of twelve in England and two in Scotland were also currently contaminated with the antibiotic-resistant varieties.

The following is a list of sites at which these seeds have been planted during the last three years;

98/R19/18 1999 SK 968 589 Boothby Graffoe Lincolnshire
98/R19/18 1999 SU 157 919 Hannington Wiltshire
98/R19/18 1999 SU 677 980 Shirburn Oxfordshire
98/R19/18 2000 SK 959 592 Boothby Graffoe Lincolnshire
98/R19/18 2000 SP 069 360 Laverton Worcestershire
98/R19/18 2000 TA 265 382 East Newton Hull
98/R19/18 2000 SP 241 486 Alderminster Warkshire
98/R19/18 2000 NZ 137 115 Hutton Magna Yorkshire
98/R19/18 2000 SO 675 313 Kempley Gloucestershire
00/R14/8 2001 SAC Aberdeenshire
00/R14/8 2002 SAC Aberdeenshire
00/R33/9 2002 SK 600 712 Meden Vale Nottinghamshire
00/R33/9 2002 TF 944 250 Horningtoft Norfolk
00/R33/9 2002 TA 221 373 Aldborough East Riding of Yorkshire
00/R33/9 2002 TM 102 875 Winfarthing Norfolk
00/R33/9 2002 SJ 683 255 Hinstock Shropshire
00/R33/9 2002 NZ 205 365 Oakenshaw Durham
00/R33/9 2002 TF 216 976 Thorganby Lincolnshire
00/R33/9 2002 TF 221 888 Ludford Lincolnshire
00/R33/9 2002 SJ 399 262 Bagley Shropshire
00/R33/9 2002 SE 820 490 Kilnwick Percy East Riding of Yorkshire
00/R33/9 2002 ST 788 028 Hilton Dorset
00/R33/9 2002 TA 065 596 Nafferton East Riding of Yorkshire
98/R19/18 2002 NJ 746 301 Daviot Aberdeenshire
98/R19/18 2002 NJ 772 280 Daviot Aberdeenshire

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