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Italy: Monsanto Seed Depot Set on Fire

by Alesssandra RizzoAssociated Press
April 3rd, 2001

ROME -- Arsonists on Tuesday set fire to a Monsanto depot a week after the Italian government said tests showed genetically modified material in one of the company's seed shipments.

The two buildings that were burned early Tuesday at the depot in Lodi, 18 miles south of Milan, did not contain the seeds under suspicion but rather conventional seeds to be distributed to Italian farmers, the U.S. biotechnology company said.

Monsanto has maintained all its imported seeds were conventional, and said if there were any genetically modified organisms found, they were below the limits at which the seeds would be considered genetically engineered.

The European Union three years ago banned genetically altered foodstuffs, saying they could pose a risk to health and the environment.

At the early Tuesday fire scene, police found two containers of flammable liquid, but have not yet identified any suspects. No one was injured in the blaze.

The words "Monsanto Killer: No GMOs," referring to genetically modified organisms, were spray-painted on one wall.

"Today's events are the result of a campaign of disinformation launched by some environmental groups and representatives of the political world over the last 10 days," Jean-Michel Duhamel, the chairman of Monsanto's Italian branch, said in a statement.

The Italian Agriculture Ministry last week said it found genetically modified material in a batch of soybean and corn seed imported from the United States last month.

The seeds that were not tested were sent to Lodi.

The company lost about 19 tons of maize and 7 tons of soybeans in the fire, and estimated its losses and damage at $160,000.

Agriculture Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio called the incident "mysterious."

The minister last week had called for the suspension of Monsanto's license as an importer and distributor, and called for the seeds in question to be seized.

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