Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
GM trial panel welcomed
Genetically modified crops in the field: The farm trials are under independent scrutiny
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
Prominent opponents of genetically-modified (GM) crops have welcomed the start of work by a team of independent scientists charged with advising the UK Government on GM crop trials.
Its job is to oversee the progress of the farmscale trials of the crops over the next four years.
But Friends of the Earth point out that the trials actually started weeks ago, highlighting the "unscientific" nature of the trials.
Science fact not fiction
The committee was announced by Environment Minister Michael Meacher on 25 May.
As it started work, Mr Meacher said: "This committee will ensure the managed development of GM crops is underpinned by sound science and not science fiction".
"We have appointed some of the UK's leading scientists in the field of farmland ecology and conservation.
"The primary objective of the farmscale evaluations is to study how the management of [specific GM crops] might affect wildlife compared to the management of their non-GM equivalents."
The consortium of institutes carrying out the research, led by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, have already begun work on the farms where these particular crops are being grown.
The spring oilseed rape has been planted at farms in Oxfordshire and Lincolnshire.
The maize is on four farms, in Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Berkshire and Hertfordshire.
Both crops have been modified to be herbicide-tolerant, but neither is insect-resistant.
The committee is chaired by Professor Christopher Pollock, of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.
Its members come from Imperial College, London; the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; the Game Conservancy Trust; and English Nature.
GM crop impact
The RSPB said: "We believe we need to find out the impacts of GM crops, harmful or otherwise, on biodiversity, so we supported the idea of research from the start."
Friends of the Earth said: "We welcome the committee and the work it is doing".
"But it seems surprising it is meeting now when the crops have been in the ground a month or two.
"It just shows how unscientific the trials are."
In a seperate development, another opponent of GM crops, the Prince of Wales, has been severely attacked for his anti GM-crop stance.
"This new technology can help the very poorest, a challenge that it is unwise, I suggest even immoral, to walk away from," he said in the magazine of the Food and Drink Federation.
The Prince of Wales last week banned farmers entering into new tenancy agreements on Duchy of Cornwall land from growing GM crops. Professor Burke said the Prince was depriving farmers of choice.