US biotech company ProdiGene has been fined US$250,000 by the US Department of Agriculture for accidentally contaminating soybeans with genetically engineered corn.

In November, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) quarantined 500,000 bushels of soybeans in Nebraska on concerns that a small amount of ProdiGene bio-corn may have been mixed with the soybean harvest. The soybeans, which were valued at US$2.7m, had been growing in a field where ProdiGene bio-corn had previously been grown.

As well as paying the fine, the company is to reimburse the government for the soybeans and the cost to destroy them. ProdiGene, which apologised for the mistake, has signed an agreement with the USDA to pay the penalties and not to appeal against the decision.

This is the first time the USDA has had to impose a fine against a biotech company for violating the Plant Protection Act, which was implemented in 2000 to regulate the transportation and planting of genetically engineered plants, reported the Associated Press.