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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports
"Ministers today increased the number of experiments ten-fold"
 real 28k

Michael Meacher
"The results will be made public"
 real 28k

Head to head
Professor Vivian Moses of CropGen debates with Lianna Stupples of FoE
 real 28k

Friday, 17 March, 2000, 11:58 GMT
GM trial sites unveiled
crop
GM trials have proved extremely controversial
The UK Government has revealed 30 trial sites for the planting of genetically-modified (GM) crops.

The crop trials
A maximum of 80 sites
25 fields for maize
25 fields for oil seed rape
30 fields for beet
The test crops - five Maize, 12 Beet (9 sugar, 3 fodder), 13 Spring oil seed rape - will be planted within the next few months as part of a three-year programme to assess their safety and the effects of GM plants on the environment.

Greenpeace responded by warning of an environmental "tragedy".

Most of the crops will be planted across England, in areas including Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the number of sites might increase to 80.

Explaining the need for the tests, Mr Meacher said: "I want to make it perfectly clear that there will be no commercial growing of GM crops in this country until we are satisfied that there will be no unacceptable effects on the environment.

"We can only find this out by testing under farm conditions."

Greenpeace's executive director Peter Melchett said the move was "a potential tragedy for the environment".

He said: "Britain will be bombarded with GM pollen with no regard for wildlife, the public or GM-free farmers.

"The whole process has been nothing short of genetic tyranny with an almost complete absence of public consultation".

Public meetings

The minister also announced a series of public meetings across the country where government officials will answer questions raised by residents on the crops.

Meetings scheduled so far include York, Lincoln, Norwich, Ipswich, Cambridge, Luton, Leicester and Worcester.



The only way we can test this is to actually do it in real fields with real farmers working with real crops

Dr Les Firbank
Mr Meacher added: "We will be placing six-figure grid references of all the sites on the DETR web site."

The environment minister also hinted to the BBC that some of the trials may not go ahead if there were well-founded local objections.

But turning to imports of GM food he stressed: "I do not accept that we can be blocked by what I would regard as a Luddite view towards the science ... the government cannot prevent the import of GM products under EU or World Trade Organisation rules unless they can show that there is a risk to human health or damage to the environment.

"The only way to secure such evidence, if that is what people want, is through these farm-scale evaluations.

"To try to prevent it, either by trashing crops, or by declaring GM-free zones, is simply shooting themselves in the foot."

Farmers risk attacks

Dr Les Firbank, the project co-ordinator says it is crucial to hold the experiments in open countryside, rather than in laboratories.

"The only way we can test this is to actually do it in real fields with real farmers working with real crops," he said.

"Otherwise anything we did in the laboratory would be open to the charge that it wouldn't really reflect what would happen once the crops were actually out there."

About 60 farmers have volunteered land as test sites for GM crops, but they will be running a risk.

Seven trials carried out in 1999 proved extremely controversial - two being destroyed by protesters and one by the farmer himself.

Some environmentalists believe that a number of issues surrounding GM crops - such as the risk of cross-pollination of neighbouring crops and contamination of honey - have not been resolved.

Those who object to the tests have vowed to keep up the pressure during the current run of trials.

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See also:

17 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
GM trials: The long hot summer
17 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Full list of GM crop sites
10 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
'Sites found' for GM farm trials
11 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
GM crop trials leap in size
15 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Farmers urged to abandon GM trials
17 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Wildlife adviser backs GM trials
27 Aug 99 | UK Politics
GM trials go ahead
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