Illegal GM rapeseed strain found at German and French farms

French and German farmers have been forced to dig up thousands of hectares of rapeseed after authorities found an illegal genetically modified (GM) strain mixed in with seeds they purchased from Bayer-Monsanto, RT reported on 8 February.

Authorities discovered the illegal seeds in three batches of rapeseed last autumn but the public had only just been notified, the news agency said.

Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year for US$63bn, issued a recall for the product but by the time farmers had learned about the issue, some seeds had already been planted, covering 8,000 ha in France and 3,000 ha in Germany.

Bayer-Monsanto estimated the number of rogue seeds at only 0.005% of the total volume of rapeseed sold to both nations under the brand name DeKalb, which was acquired by Monsanto in 1998. Both countries however, have a ban on GMO cultivation with strict penalties for “accidental” contamination of standard crops.

According to Bayer’s French COO Catherine Lamboley, farmers had also been barred from growing rapeseed next year “to avoid a re-emergence of the GM strain”. The company had offered to compensate farmers at a rate of €2,000/ha, which would total to around €20M between both countries, RT wrote.

Lamboley said the cause of contamination was unknown since the seeds were produced in Argentina in a GMO-free area. The company had chosen to immediately halt production of rapeseed in Argentina. The rogue GM seed was a variety grown in Canada but banned in Europe.

Both France and Germany have banned their farmers from growing GM crops following an EU directive in 2015 which gave EU states the power to restrict or ban GM crop cultivation in their territory. The directive only covers GM crop cultivation. GMOs can enter Europe as food or animal feed and must be labelled, but meat and dairy products produced from animals fed on GM feed do not have to be labelled.

In Europe, GM crops can be grown experimentally with approval from national regulators, or commercially if approved by the EU. However, only one GM crop has ever been approved and grown in the EU – a type of maize with in-built resistance to the European corn borer – grown in Spain, according to GeneWatch.