A massive 18,000ha of rapeseed has been destroyed in France due to a risk of contamination with a GMO (genetically modified organism) in the seed.

The production of GMO crops is not allowed in France and only certain GMO crops have been authorised for use in the EU.

As traces of a GMO variety that is grown in Canada were found in the seed, sold to French and German farmers, these crops were destroyed.

The area to be destroyed in France was originally 8,000ha. However, Reuters reported on Friday that a Bayer spokeswoman stated that the figure reached 18,000ha as a result of precautionary removals of crops where the traceability of the seed was in doubt.

Reuters also stated that 2,150ha of rapeseed were destroyed in Germany. This is lower than the initial figure thought to be contaminated which was between 2,500ha and 3,000ha.

Farmers compensated

Crops were destroyed before flowering to avoid the spread of the GMO variety. Bayer has offered compensation to farmers for the crop loss.

Farmers have also been asked not to grow the crop next year in order to avoid anymore possible plants emerging next season. Oilseed rape plants can be controlled in other crops.

Gene-editing ruling

On July 25 last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) made a ruling that gene-edited crops should be regulated in the same way as conventionally genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This means that GMO legislation that came into effect in 2001 – which regulates the planting and sale of EU crops – will now include mutagenesis techniques, that were developed after 2001 and are not exempt from the law. Gene-editing is one of these techniques.

CRISPR is a common form of gene-editing. The technique involves changes to DNA. It does not involve the insertion of genes from other species.

CRISPR food crops will now have to go through the same regulations and hurdles as traditional GMOs.

The court did state that exemptions may be obtained for some techniques which have been used conventionally and which have a long and safe record.