Trial workers at the controversial Aventis Crop Science field trials of genetically modified canola in Mount Gambier, SA, have inadvertently breached national security rules, by carrying GM seeds home in their clothing. 

The workers argued that they were not provided with protective clothing, safety guidelines, or even informed that the crop was GM.

The breach, which is the third of its kind in four years, has prompted conservationists to demand an immediate halt to all GM field trials. In March last year, Aventis was reprimanded after dumped GM contaminated trash was found by the roadside. A report issued in the same month by the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (IOGTR) criticised the company after finding uncontrolled re-growth of GM canola in 21 of the 58 Tasmanian trial sites.

This latest breach is proof, according to many, that Aventis is not taking the voluntary safety guidelines seriously. Scott Kinnear, spokesman for the Organic Federation of Australia, commented yesterday: "This is a clear indication that Aventis is not fit to hold a licence. They have clearly failed to demonstrate their ability to act in a manner that ensures these field trials are contained."

"Our position for some time has been for a freeze for at least five years on all genetically modified organisms in field trials or commercial release, and this breach only strengthens our case," he added.

The Organic Federation of Australia made the complaint about Aventis to the IOGTR, where spokeswomen Kay McNiece commented that Aventis had been made aware of the guidelines. She added however, that the risk to the environment by this security breach is reasonably small: "The breaches Aventis has had in the past were of major concern to us. This is not of anything like that scale, but it is still a concern, and Aventis has assured us workers are being contacted and notified of their obligations."

At the moment, the IOGTR is powerless to do anything other than record the breaches of the government safety guidelines. The federal government's Gene Technology Bill plans to make all GM companies apply for licences and publicise the location of their GM trials. It does not become law until 21 June 2001, but after that date, fines of up to A$1m will apply.