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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

The BBC's Tom Feilden
Scientists will visit the sites to sample soils and insect populations
 real 28k

Farmer and GM trialist Bob Fidderman
"My neighbours have been very supportive"
 real 28k

Friday, 17 March, 2000, 14:20 GMT
GM trials: The long hot summer
melchett arrested
Greenpeace's Peter Melchett leaves an earlier GM test field
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

So the UK's farm-scale trials of genetically-modified (GM) crops are going ahead. It looks like it is going to be an interesting summer down on the experimental farms.

Far from accepting that the trials are now a done deal, the opponents of GM technology are as determined as ever to stop them.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) said its opposition would continue, but would not extend to pulling GM plants out of the ground.

Ian Willmore of FoE told BBC News Online: "We are about advocacy, not direct action. But given what happened last year, I think it's reasonable to speculate that there will be action this summer. It won't be organised by us, though."

Approval in principle

And although FoE is opposed to the trials as planned, Mr Willmore held out the prospect that it could conceivably endorse a different sort of experiment.

"We're not against testing in principle, but we are against these tests. The government should scrap this programme, sit down with everyone concerned, and devise a new set of tests we could go along with."

michael meacher
Micheal Meacher: Challenged
Twenty-eight Greenpeace volunteers are due in Norwich crown court on 3 April to answer charges arising from their activities at a GM maize field trial in July 1999.

Sarah North, Greenpeace's GM campaigner, told News Online what happened to them would help to decide the organisation's tactics over the next few months.

"The campaign's going brilliantly. We haven't decided yet whether to do more direct action - we're waiting to see what the court will decide.

"We're launching a nationwide GM-free zones campaign, because we want to give people a way of showing their opposition.

"We know of at least eight local authorities in England alone which have told their tenant farmers not to grow GM crops or to take part in these trials, so we know the opposition is already widespread.

"And anything at all can be a GM-free zone. It can be as big as a county, or as small as your fridge."

Dispersal fears

Another group deeply concerned at the prospect of the trials is the Soil Association, which promotes organic farming and is worried that its members' crops may be contaminated by pollen from the trial fields.

The barriers between the fields and other farmland vary in width from six to 600 metres, although research published last year showed that pollen could travel much further in the air, and as far as two and a half miles when carried by bees.

monarch butterfly
The trials may affect wildlife
Harry Hadaway, a Soil Association spokesman, told BBC News Online: "We're very concerned that the crops are being grown at all, with no attention to the views of pollen experts, and with no consultation at all with us.

"Michael Meacher, the environment minister, says the trials are the only way to secure the evidence which would let the government ban GM imports.

"But our understanding is that the biosafety protocol reached at the United Nations talks in Montreal at the end of January allows it to do that anyway.

Reducing over-dependence

CropGen, a group which says its purpose is "to make a balanced case for crop biotechnology", said environmental campaigners were threatening the UK with "a chemical future".

Dr Guy Poppy of CropGen said: "GM crops can help to reduce British agriculture's over-dependence on chemical herbicides and pesticides.

"Rejection of GM crops will force UK farmers to compete on an uneven playing field, as overseas farmers reduce their spending on chemicals.

"GM crops hold one of the best hopes we have for not only preserving but enhancing diversity in the countryside."

CropGen says there is evidence from last year's trials that GM sugar beet needs about 30% less herbicide than conventional plants.

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See also:

17 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
GM trial sites unveiled
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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