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Monday, June 7, 1999 Published at 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK


GM trial farmer also backs organic crops

Captain Barker grew both GM and organic crops

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The Wiltshire farmer who destroyed a trial crop of genetically-modified (GM) oilseed rape under orders from the farm's trustees practises organic cultivation on part of his land.

On Saturday, the farmer, Captain Fred Barker, used weedkiller to destroy the 10.5-hectare (26-acre) drop.

[ image: Captain Barker and his wife survey the destroyed crop]
Captain Barker and his wife survey the destroyed crop
He said he had done so "with great regret", because he believed "very strongly" in GM technology.

Captain Barker farms the 800-hectare (2,000-acre) Lushill Farm at Hannington. He uses an 82-hectare (200 acre) block as an organic unit, licensed by the Soil Association.

He told the Association in March of his intention to grow the GM crop, one of the government's first farm-scale trials.

"We tried to dissuade him, and gave him sensible advice", the Association told BBC News Online.

Helen Browning, Soil Association: "I'm pleased the threat to local organic farms has been removed"
"But it wasn't a prohibition. There was nothing in our standards then to say he could not go ahead."

In April, though, the Association's council agreed new standards (which still await approval), prohibiting the growing of GM crops on the same holding as an organic unit.

It says it then told Captain Barker there was a risk of his licence being revoked.

Licensees now have to inform the Association if their land is within six miles of a GM crop. This measure aims to rule out any cross-contamination.

Pesticide contamination

But the Soil Association accepts that it cannot guarantee that wind-blown chemicals used in conventional agriculture will not contaminate organic crops.

[ image: The trial was designed to assess the impact of this GM crop on the environment]
The trial was designed to assess the impact of this GM crop on the environment
Ministers hope it will accept a similar low threshold for possible GM cross-pollination.

There are several farm-scale trials under way this year, each of about 20 hectares (50 acres). They are designed to gauge the possible impact of GM crops.

Less pesticide use

The Food Safety Minister, Jeff Rooker, told the BBC: "The growing of the crops is to check the effect on the environment and wildlife to see, for example, if the claim of manufacturers that 30% less pesticides are needed to grow these crops is true".

"If that's the case, then it's got to be good. Unless we do the trials we won't get that information."

The trials, which are to last for three or four years, are intended to supplement the data from much smaller plantings, using plots measuring 36 by 10 metres, begun in 1992.

The results will be evaluated by the Natural Environment Research Council, guided by a steering committee which includes scientists from English Nature and the RSPB.

The research will sample species including plants, insects, slugs and snails, earthworms and the soil seed bank.

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