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Italian Leader Accuses Monsanto

March 29, 2001

ROME (AP) _ Italy’s agriculture minister has called for the seizure of more than 300 tons of soybean and corn seeds, which he claims were genetically modified, and for the suspension of the license of the importer and distributer, Monsanto.

The chairman of Monsanto’s Italian branch, Jean-Michel Duhamel, denied Thursday that the seeds were genetically modified, and called it a ``misinterpretation″ by the agriculture ministry.

``We don’t sell genetically modified seeds, this is for sure,″ Duhamel told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ``Some of the lots could present a small, adventitious presence of genetically modified organisms, but well below the standards which are generally accepted.″

The seeds arrived from the United States in the northern Italian port of Genoa earlier this month. Some of them were analyzed under usual customs checks and showed ``irregularities,″ said Oliviero Dottorini, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry.

The remaining seeds were sent to a depot of the U.S. company in Lodi, in northern Italy. Much of the seed was then distributed to Monsanto’s 2,000 retailers across the country.

Further tests taken on the first batch of seeds found the presence of some genetically modified material, Dottorini said, declining to be more specific.

Duhamel maintains that Monsanto was never notified the outcome of the tests, and said that, pending the results, the company asked its retailers to ``cooperate with authorities and not sell the seeds.″

Duhamel added that seeds with a ″1 percent impurity,″ referring to the level of genetically modified seeds, are considered conventional by the industry.

But Dottorini insisted that any level of genetically modified seed is banned by Italy.

Genetic engineering involves splicing a single gene from one organism to another. While in the United States, genetically modified varieties of soybeans and corn gained popularity in the 1990s and are now commonly found in U.S. supermarkets, they are still unpopular among Europeans.

The EU had approved 18 genetically altered products but stopped the approval process three years ago in the face of public health and environment concerns.

It is now up to a government representative in Milan, where Monsanto’s Italian branch is based, to decide on the seizure of the seeds and on the possible suspension of the license.

In Italy, Monsanto has a 30 percent share of the soybean seed market, and a 15 percent share of the corn market.

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