Highland Laird Al Fayed to sue MAFF over GM rape seed contamination blunder

Mohamed El Fayed is taking legal action against MAFF for ‘deliberate criminal negligence’ over its delay in announcing that batches of conventional oilseed rape marketed for planting in the UK contained GM. The multi-millionaire owns Balnagown, a Highland estate where 55 acres were unwittingly planted with contaminated oil seed rape at the beginning of May.

This was two weeks after MAFF had been informed of the problem but two weeks before they released the information to the public.

The basis of the case is that the fiasco of planting a crop to then destroy it within weeks could have been avoided had the government not withheld the crucial information for a month.

The Harrods Press Office confirmed to edie that “Michael Mansfield QC has been instructed to prepare a case against MAFF and Agriculture Minister Nick Brown. It is impossible to predict the timescale at this stage, but the action will be going ahead.”

The chain of events was set in motion on 17 April 2000 when Advanta Seeds UK notified the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions of the possibility that some conventional rapeseed stocks sold to farmers for spring sowing in 1999 and 2000 contained levels of around 1% of GM rapeseed. The seeds in question were produced in Canada in 1998, and appear to have been affected by growing too close to GM rapeseed. The company has since announced that the 1999 supplies were unaffected – the problem was restricted to the 2000 batch.

The information about the possible seed stock contamination was not released until a statement in Parliament on 17 June, by which time some 4,700 hectares in the UK had been planted with the suspect seed. The timing of this news coincided with an announcement from the Swedish government that batches of the same contaminated seed had been planted in Sweden.

MAFF secured agreement from the European Commission that UK farmers who decided to destroy the suspect crop would have the option of re-planting with an alternative eligible crop up to the 15 June without affecting their eligibility for Arable Area Payments Scheme and set-aside payments. The UK government statement acknowledged that losses would be incurred by farmers, but regarded this as a matter to be resolved between the farmer and the seed supplier.

The National Farmer’s Union for Scotland Public Relations Office told edie that contrary to some reports, the NFUS is not involved in the legal case. However, edie was told, Mohamed El Fayed is a member of National Farmer’s Union for Scotland and he has generously offered to provide expert legal advice for the NFUS to use in negotiations with Advanta Seeds. The company is now offering compensation to affected farmers.

Workers on the Al Fayed estate used pesticides to destroy the crop before it could cross-pollinate. However the estate manager believes that the farmland may still be affected, as seeds can lie dormant for years.

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