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Monday, 7 May, 2001, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Minister calls for GM site to move
Field of crops
Michael Meacher warns of cross-pollination risk
A new genetically modified crops test site should be moved as it poses a risk to an organic research centre, says the Environment minister.

Michael Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a GM maize trial in Warwickshire should find an alternative site because its crop could cross-pollinate with organic seeds.

His last-ditch appeal seems to contradict advice from his own department, seen by BBC News Online, that the chance of cross-pollination was "likely to be zero".

The GM maize crop is due to be planted in fields three kilometres a (two miles) from the Henry Doubleday research centre near Ryton in Warwickshire this week.

Any trace of GM in the research centre's fields could lead to the loss of licence from the Soil Association to grow organic crops. That would be a disaster

Michael Meacher

Mr Meacher said he was asking those in charge of conducting and overseeing the GM trials to find another site away from Europe's largest research centre for organic crops.

"It has a worldwide reputation and if it were allowed to go ahead, the GM pollen could cross pollinate with three crops of organic sweetcorn that are grown at Ryton, and that in turn could contaminate the seedbank.

"Any trace of GM in the research centre's fields could lead to the loss of licence from the Soil Association to grow organic crops.

"That would be a disaster," he said.

He said though experience suggested that GM pollen would not settle further than 200 metres, there was a possibility that, in high winds, it could travel much further.

Legal challenge

Mr Meacher told the BBC that he only had the power to intervene and stop cultivation if the GM crops were a risk to human health or would damage the environment.

Environment minister Michael Meacher
Mr Meacher says organic research centre is at risk
He added that he might have to test the law to determine if "damage to the environment" could be taken to mean damage to the crops of nearby farmers.

Environmentalists have warned that the GM maize trial, which involves the planting of herbicide-tolerant GM maize on the Wolston farm, could have "truly catastrophic" effects on the UK's organic agriculture.

BBC News Online has seen a letter from one of Mr Meacher's officials from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions rejecting the concerns he is voicing.

A member of the DETR's Biotechnology Safety Unit replied on 26 April to a letter sent to Mr Meacher a week earlier by a concerned organic farmer.

The official wrote: "The GM maize at Wolston should not affect the organic status of the sweetcorn grown at the Henry Doubleday Research Centre.

"The organic status of plants other than sweetcorn and maize cultivated at Ryton should also not be in question.

"Our advice is that at a distance of two km the amount of cross-pollination between maize crops is likely to be zero."

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