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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
GM claims 'are speculative'
A newspaper report saying genetically modified crops being farm tested in the UK were found to be damaging to the environment has been described as "speculative" and "inaccurate".

Rape, BBC
Conventional rape is a major crop for UK farmers
The Guardian published a front page article on Thursday which said scientists working on the trials would recommend that two out of the three GM varieties being investigated should not be commercialised.

The daily paper said the judgement would "be a serious setback to the GM lobby in the UK and Europe", and that it would reopen "the acrimonious debate about GM food".

But the Royal Society, which will publish the trials data in two weeks, criticised the article's detail and warned it could frustrate efforts to get an open debate on the GM issue.

"We understand the commercial pressures under which The Guardian and other media outlets are placed, and that an exclusive story based on a leak may boost numbers of readers, viewers or listeners," said Stephen Cox, the executive secretary of the UK's academy of science.

"Nevertheless, we believe such commercial interests should not outweigh the public interest in the provision of an accurate account of the full contents of eight scientific papers."

Ninth paper

The Guardian article was headlined "GM crops fail key trials amid environment fear".

It said scientists would conclude that the growing of herbicide-tolerant GM oil seed rape and sugar beet was damaging to plant and insect life - more damaging than growing conventional strains.

A third crop on trial, a GM maize, was said by the paper to have allowed the survival of more weeds and insects and could possibly be recommended for approval - although some scientists still had their reservations.

The Guardian said the full results of the trials would be published in eight papers - in the journal Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society: : Biological Sciences - on 10 October. One of the papers, it reported, had been rejected.

The paper claimed: "The Society's explanation was that the ninth paper was not a scientific document but a summary of findings and in effect a recommendation to the advisory committee on releases to the environment - the expert quango.

"The scientists involved will now themselves publish this summary at the same time as the other eight papers, concluding that two of the three crops should not be grown."

The Royal Society countered that the papers would not be published until the 16th.

"The article in The Guardian is wrong about the publication date of the scientific papers, even though that information was made public three weeks ago, and misrepresents the journal's reasons for rejecting a ninth paper about the farm scale evaluations," said Stephen Cox.

"You can draw your own conclusions about how accurate the rest of the article is likely to be."

Public debate

The UK Government called for a number of expert reports to be compiled before it takes a decision on whether to approve GM for commercial production in the country.

Britons are generally uneasy about GM
The more people engage in GM issues, the harder their attitudes and more intense their concerns
Little support for early commercialisation of GM crops
Widespread public mistrust of Government and multinationals
A broad desire for further research and information

It has also held a public consultation exercise on the issue - called GM Nation? - which came down heavily against the novel plants.

More than half of those who took part in over 600 meeting said the crops should never be introduced under any circumstances.

Anti-GM group Friends of the Earth were quick to react to the Guardian story.

"If true, this must surely be the death blow for commercial GM crops in the UK," said FoE director Tony Juniper.

"The Prime Minister this week promised to listen to the public. It's time he listened on this important issue and refused to allow GM crops to be commercially grown in Britain."

And Environment minister Elliot Morley commented: "The Government will study the results with great care when they are received and there will be detailed scientific evaluation, particularly if there is evidence of environmental problems.

"The Government is neither for nor against GM crops. There is an open and transparent process for their assessment and all relevant material will be put in the public domain for comment."

The BBC's Jenny Scott
"There's a lot of work to do if the public is going to be persuaded to buy GM food"

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