LONDON (B)--UK Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said May 18 the government had been advised about the sale Canadian oilseed rape containing genetically modified material on April 17 by Advanta Seeds UK, despite a statement from the company saying it had advised the government April 3.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Brown maintained there was no risk to human health from the contaminated crops and that GM modification of the seeds had been approved for food use by the Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment. He also said there was no DNA present in oil produced from the oil produced from some 13,700 hectares planted on up to 600 farms across the United Kingdom in the past two years.

Brown said he regretted developments on the issue, but said there would be no policy change on government field trials set to run until the end of 2003.

Brown indicated that the government was now undertaking an urgent review of all aspects of its GM food and crop policies.

He conceded that the government was re-examining the 200-meter minimum separation distance between GM crops and other crops that was being used for the farm-scale trials now under way, in the light of evidence from Canada that GM pollen had cross-pollinated at a distance of 800 meters. He also admitted that the legal liability of the GM industry for its products was also under review.

Brown's statement left it unclear whether the acceptability of the specific GM rapeseed planted was also under review. Brown told the House of Commons in his prepared statement that the seed was sterile, but under cross-questioning admitted that the same seed in Canada had proved to be fertile in certain circumstances of "three-way pollination."

Brown also said the Environment Ministry was in the process of setting up spot checks on GM imports, which will be implemented June 1.

Brown admitted that government officials had been talking to Advanta Seeds UK on an "almost daily basis," since April 17 and that there would be a ministerial-level meeting "very soon."

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