Examination of witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 18 JULY 2000
BUCKERIDGE and MR
40. If I turn to your statement about your 1999
crop, you make a statement bearing in mind what you have just
said that needs to be explored a little further. "A a result,
there is no GM impurity in the 1999 harvest of spring oilseed
rape seed delivered to Europe." What exactly does that mean?
(Dr Buckeridge) It means that we ran a test, we took
a statistically representative sample, we used a test method in
a lab that we had audited and, at the statistical level of confidence
which we used, which was a high level, we found no GM impurities.
41. Could you explain that further? Does that
mean that someone running a PCR test on that particular collection
of seed would find no GM presence within it?
(Dr Buckeridge) It is not possible to make that statement,
no. All I can say to you is that we did a thorough test. It was
an issue of great importance to us.
42. Using the PCR?
(Dr Buckeridge) We used a bio-assay test in that particular
instance, because we were not confident of the reliability of
43. Although you have accepted PCR in the context
of this case, because that was how the original occurrence was
(Dr Buckeridge) Yes, but bear in mind that what we
did when we heard the original occurrence was quantified by PCR
was that we first of all did a follow-up test, and we also verified
using a different method. Practically, as we have said in the
submission, the industry is going to have to accept that a variant
of PCR testing will be the method that has to be used. The reasons
for that are logistical reasons. To turn seed around between seasons
is a very tight turnaround, and we will need a test that can deliver
a result very quickly. It does not take away the reservations
we have about the reliability of the test and the reservations
that independent scientists and publications that have come through
people like MAFF have about the reliability of the test. There
are definite flaws in the methodology. It is not to say that the
methodology in five years' time will not overcome those flaws,
but right now, as we sit here, particularly looking at brassica
crops, there are questions around that methodology.
44. There is another implication of that statement,
which is that, even taking the qualifications you have now put
into that about what no GM impurity actually means, it does indicate
that the company took risks with the 1998 crop which it chose
not to take with the 1999 crop. In other words, it understood
the possibility of contamination. As you said earlier in the paragraph,
on the basis of precaution rather than any suspicion of possible
contamination, you moved your supply within the North American
continent to different locations. That does imply a degree of
carelessness on the part of your company.
(Dr Buckeridge) No, it does not. As I said earlier,
the environment in the prairies of Canada for producing seed with
respect to GM impurities was very different in 1998 compared to
1999. In 1999 55 per cent of the Canadian crop was GM. The land
had been subjected to GM crops for a further year. In our opinion,
it was not possible to get the level of seed purity protection
in 1999 that we could achieve in
45. Surely that is a matter of modest degree
rather than principle.
(Dr Buckeridge) No, I do not agree.
46. In your figures in 1998 the level of GM
crops was 35 per cent, so the move from 35 to 55 which triggered
your decision to move. So it is a matter of degree, is it not,
as to what degree of risk you were prepared to take with your
(Dr Buckeridge) I think a 60 per cent increase in
the acreage is quite significant.
47. Yes, but 35 per cent available acreage anywhere
was quite significant. Your risk analysis would appear to be not
as robust as one might wish from a company seeking to sell to
customers on a confident basis.
(Dr Buckeridge) As I say, we made a risk assessment
in 1998 in the context of the environment that was there in front
48. You made a different one in 1999 on the
basis of some increase.
(Dr Buckeridge) On the basis of some increase and
on the basis that the fields that were available to us were far
more likely to have already grown GM crops, so there was also
a risk in those fields.
49. My own question at this point is that this
evidence, not surprisingly, focuses largely on UK reaction, although
as we may explore with the Minister, the reaction of Sweden comes
into this as well. You presumably sold your seed widely in other
parts of Europe, including in Germany, where the problem was detected.
We are not party in this evidence to what reaction there has been
in other parts of your marketplace.
(Dr Buckeridge) I would be happy to expand if that
is of interest.
50. I would be interested to know.
(Dr Buckeridge) When we first learned about the problem
in Germany, as I said earlier, we checked through seed lots to
find out whether those specific seed lots of that particular variety
had been distributed elsewhere. We then did a further check of
seed lots when we were suspicious but without evidence that a
couple of other varieties could have also been affected. That
led us to understand that the seed had been sold, as we knew,
in Germany, in the UK, and then there were small acreages in France.
We were also concerned about acreages in Sweden and Finland. We
checked what had happened to that seed, and in the case of Sweden
it was reported to us that no seed had left the distributors'
warehouse. This was, I think, to do with the more northerly latitude
and the later planting dates. So immediately that seed was stopped.
Later on the distributor came back to us and said that they had
found some seed from the 1998 production in merchants' warehouses,
and that that seed had gone into the ground, but it was a small
quantity; that they had immediately notified the Swedish authorities
of that event, and that information was received by us on 15 or
16 May. That information was immediately communicated to the UK
government so that they were aware of the Swedish situation. We
had told them earlier about seed in France and seed in Germany,
but we had done the check on Sweden and got a negative response
from our distributor. When the distributor came back and said
he had found some seed, we immediately informed the UK Government.
The Swedish Ministry discussed the issue with the distributor
in Sweden and made a public statement on, I think I am right in
saying, 16 May.
51. Within 24 hours. We will touch on that with
the Minister. You mentioned France, where presumably sowing had
already taken place.
(Dr Buckeridge) Yes.
52. What has happened there?
(Dr Buckeridge) The French situation is that the French
Government concluded that it should order the destruction of the
crop. The destruction of the crop was ordered in France beforeand
I would have to check and send you a note on when that decision
was made. The French situation is almost identical to the UK situation
at this moment, in that we have agreed a compensation plan for
the farmers in France, the crops have been ploughed out of the
ground in France, and so the situation is very parallel.
53. The last thing is what level of purity as
seed suppliers do you seek for these particular varieties in normal
(Mr Ruthven) Within the existing regulations?
(Mr Ruthven) If it were open pollinated rape, the
genetic purity would be 0.3 per cent and the mechanical purity
would be 2 per cent. Because of the parentage in hybrid rapes,
there is a very high degree of genetic impurity permitted, and
that is 10 per cent.
55. So actually the level of tolerance is very
high in these particular varieties.
(Mr Ruthven) On these particular varieties, yes.
56. Given your demand for regulation, it sounds
as though you have no confidence whatsoever in the self-regulatory
regime, ie drawn up by SCIMAC. Is that true to say?
(Dr Buckeridge) I think that SCIMAC scheme relates
specifically to GM crops and the testing of GM crops or issues
of environmental diversity. I think we have confidence in that
scheme. We support it. There has been talk about review of the
separation distances in that scheme. We think that is appropriate.
Even when you have an experience like this, it is always appropriate
to look at things like that. I do not think it is fair to say
we do not have confidence in the scheme.
57. But surely SCIMAC must have discussed these
arrangements as well. The different bodies within the trade association
must have seen this as a potential problem that was bound to arise.
(Dr Buckeridge) The trade association certainly saw
GM impurities as a potential problem and made their views on that
clear through their European Association to the Commission in
58. So what degree of regulation would you want
(Dr Buckeridge) We would like to see a clear threshold
set. We would like regulations to specify a testing method, we
would like to see regulations specify a statistical analysis of
the results of those tests, and we believe the seed industry should
comply with that. This is an issue of great public sensitivity.
I do not think it is appropriate to have that issue governed by
industry self-regulation. I think it is appropriate that there
(Mr Ruthven) Could I add to that? The ordinary seed
regulations are well understood and are internationally standardised
so that the seed can move around the world, as it does. You have
heard, for instance, that we are producing seed now in New Zealand,
in Montana and in eastern Canada. Other species may come from
a number of different countries. The seed moves around and the
regulations are very much the same in all countries. So we believe
that the reason the regulation is needed is not only for the reasons
Dr Buckeridge has explained, but it does need to be internationally
recognised so that when the seed is received in this country or
when it is sold in this country and produced locally, its certification
can be relied on by the consuming farmer and the consumer in general.
59. Is it fair to say that if full product liability
was in place, that is an alternative way of doing this and you
would be in considerable difficulties now? It may well be that
you would blame people who have polluted your crop, but is that
something you would have to face up to?
(Mr Ruthven) I think the issues of liability are extremely
difficult. The contracts between seed companies internationally
have certification on a document called an orange international
certificate, and a great deal of reliance can be placed upon the
information in that certificate under international rules. If
a similar process were adopted for GM, which would probably fit
quite comfortably with that sort of regulation, it would be possible
to pinpoint the question of liability in the contractual chain.