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Key Investigation Questions on Somerset GM Oilseed Rape Contamination

Immediate release (10 Jan 2009)

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

GM Freeze has written to Defra Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, setting out the key questions which need to be answered by the investigation of the contamination of an oilseed rape crop in Somerset in 2008.

Defra reported the incident just before Christmas. [1] It followed a similar incident in Scotland when oilseed rape seed taking part in National List trials for a new non-GM variety were 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 around 0.05%.

This means that over 50,000 GM plants were grown in the field [2] which would have gone on 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 have adopted a policy to keep the county GM-free and responded to Defra’s 2006 consultation on the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops, and yet the County has not been informed by Defra of the location of the contaminated field.

Amongst the key questions [3] which GM Freeze thinks need to be addressed by an investigation 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?
  • The measures 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 both in 2008 and in future years?
  • What measure 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 employed for?
  • What measures are required to prevent further contamination, including the use of import bans on countries where risk is high?

The group also 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.

Commenting Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

This is the third incident of illegal GM contamination of oilseed rape since 2000 and we don’t even grow it in the UK or anywhere in the EU. It is clear warning that the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops will be impossible without contamination occurring and causing chaos in the market and creating long-term farming and environmental problems. It is very important that Defra learn the lesson from the 2008 contamination incidents and act decisively to prevent further occurrences. They must consider banning seed imports from countries where contamination risk exists – there are plenty of non-GM countries who would be happy to supply GM-free seeds and, for that matter, why not grow our own in the UK?

Monsanto must be made to realize that genetic modification is rather more serious than just accidentally mixing your coloureds with your whites.


Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

[1] See

[2] Assumes a sowing rate of 120 seeds /square metre.

[3] Copy of letter available on request.