Greenpeace has labelled it the “biggest GM seed scandal so far in Germany,” according to a report by broadcaster RTL.
The seeds come from a firm in Buxtehude on the outskirts of Hamburg, which has sold them to agriculture businesses in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein.
The type of corn, called MON 810, was banned last year by the German government, with then Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner saying at the time: “I have come to the conclusion there are just reasons to assume that the genetically-modified maize MON 810 represents a danger for the environment.”
The contaminated seeds were used on land totalling up to 3,000 hectares, according to Greenpeace. The GM contamination accounts for up to 0.1 percent of the seed, Greenpeace said.
The situation means that about 100 genetically modified plants would be growing per hectare and the already planted corn would need to be destroyed.
The Lower Saxony Agriculture Ministry reportedly learned of the contamination in early March, but waited until late April to pass the information on to the Environment Ministry, which is responsible for informing farmers.
According to a convention set by the states, the information actually should have been registered by the end of March in order to prevent the sowing of the modified seeds. However, authorities let this deadline lapse.
“Either it was knowingly sloppy or from political persuasions deliberately accepted,” said Greenpeace Agriculture expert Alexander Hissting.
A spokesman for the Lower Saxony Agriculture Ministry, Gert Hahne, rejected the accusation. It was about voluntary control, he said.
“We are not responsible for the control of seeds, rather the manufacturers," he told RTL.
The delay had only amounted to two or three weeks and was in no way deliberate, he said.
The Environment Ministry had encountered a further delay of a month, owing to the manufacturers' initial refusal to divulge who their customers were. Only after a court ruling on Friday had its orders been complied with.
Spokesman Hahne stressed that the corn was harmless. “A danger to consumers is out of the question,” he told the broadcaster.
The GM corn is grown in the United States, he said, adding there was there was no study showing it posed health risks there.