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Friends of the Earth has today written to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) demanding an urgent investigation into whether unapproved genetically modified (GM) maize has been illegally imported into the UK. Biotech giant Syngenta has admitted that it accidentally sold hundreds of tonnes of unapproved GM maize seed to US farmers over the last four years. Over 16 thousand tonnes of US maize was imported into the UK last year.

According to Nature, Syngenta produced and sold several hundred tonnes of the unapproved GM seed, called `Bt10', to US farmers between 2001 and 2004 [1]. The GM maize, modified to produce an insecticide, has not been approved for human consumption in the US or anywhere else in the world. As far as Friends of the Earth is aware, the safety of Bt10 has never been examined by the UK or EU authorities.

The FSA has told Friends of the Earth that UK laboratories can only test for the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food when certain information about the particular GMO is provided by the company [2]. According to the Nature article, Syngenta and the US Government have been in discussions since last year over what should be done about the error, and how the information should be released to the public. But it is unclear whether Syngenta has ever provided the necessary information to allow the UK to test for its presence in our food and animal feed.

Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner, Clare Oxborrow said:

"This is an industry out of control. For four years Syngenta failed to notice that they were selling farmers an unapproved GM seed. How are consumers and farmers supposed to trust them to produce our food in the future? This case makes a complete mockery of the US regulatory system for GM crops. To make matters worse the US Government has known about this accident for months and together with Syngenta decided to keep it a secret until now."

"The British public will be concerned that this unapproved GM ingredient may have found its way into food and animal feed, and will demand answers. The Food Standards Agency needs to urgently reassure us that this maize was not imported into the UK. And if it was it must ensure that any contaminated products are withdrawn immediately."


[1] Nature website (22 March),

[2] Letter from Food Standards Agency to Friends of the Earth, 14 December 2004.

"A number of public analyst and commercial analytical laboratories have the ability and capability to test for the presence of GM materials where information is provided in relation to the GM event and the necessary reference materials are provided."

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