Italians Hunt Illegal GM Seed
Reuters in Rome
The Italian agriculture minister, Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, ordered checks on 21 Italian seed companies yesterday after seizing soya bean and maize seed imported by the US biotech company Monsanto on the grounds that it contained traces of genetically modified material.
Mr Pecoraro Scanio has also asked the regional authorities in Milan to suspend Monsanto's seed import licence.
"The possible illegal emission of genetically modified organisms in the fields could cause very serious environmental and economic damage," said Mr Pecoraro Scanio, a Green party member and an opponent of GM foods. "To prevent is always better than to repair damage."
Officials of the Italian Seed Association, whose members will be subjected to the checks ordered yesterday, which will be made by farm police and fraud investigators, wrote to Mr Pecoraro Scanio in October saying it was impossible to guarantee seeds free of GM material.
Jean-Michel Duhamel, managing director of a Monsanto subsidiary in Lodi, said that if the authorities found traces of genetic material in deposits of rival seed firms, they too could be threatened with having their import licences suspended.
On Wednesday the Italian police began seizing 300 tonnes of soya seed suspected of containing genetic material which Monsanto had distributed to retailers.
They had already seized 112 tonnes of maize from Monsanto's warehouse in Lodi.
Testing of maize from Monsanto revealed the presence of the banned GM Monsanto strain Mon 810, a health ministry official said. Mr Duhamel said the maize could contain minimal traces of Mon 810, but it conformed with the regulations.
An official familiar with the seizures of Monsanto grain said EU laws were unclear on how to tackle cases where grain was found to contain genetic material. It was up to individual governments to decide how to proceed in such cases, he added.