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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 04:17 GMT
GM trials spark fresh row
Oilseed rape
The GM crop trials are situated all over the UK
The government's unveiling of 58 new trial sites for genetically modified (GM) crops has sparked fresh controversy among environmental groups.

Campaigners have accused ministers of being "reckless" for introducing the next stage of test sites for the spring.

Once again the biotech industry is being allowed to gamble with our countryside

Friends of the Earth

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the trials were about the possible effects on wildlife of GM crops and not the safety of GM technology itself.

But Friends of the Earth said the trials would lead to the widespread contamination of food and the countryside.

Details of the 58 trials will be sent to local authorities in a wide variety of locations in England and Scotland up to six weeks before they start in order to give people time to find out what is happening and why.

Safety tests

Mr Meacher said: "The purpose of these trials is to provide systematic answers to the question as to whether the planting of herbicide-tolerant GM crops, and the use of weedkillers associated with them, will cause any detriment to wildlife.

Location of test sites
Lincolnshire,11
North Yorkshire, 2
East Riding of Yorkshire, 3
Durham, 3
South Yorkshire, 1
Herefordshire, 2
Hertfordshire, 2
Suffolk, 1
Leicestershire, 1
Dorset, 1
Gloucestershire, 5
Cambridgeshire, 2
Cumbria, 1
Shropshire, 3
Nottinghamshire, 1
Norfolk, 10
Worcestershire, 1
Leicestershire, 1
Scotland, 3
Kent, 1

"They are not about the safety of GM technology."

The government insists all seeds being used in the trials have been through years of rigorous safety tests.

But Pete Riley, Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner, said: "Once again the biotech industry is being allowed to gamble with our countryside.

"Separation distances are entirely inadequate and GM contamination will creep into our food.

"These crops threaten the livelihoods of those that are meeting the massive demand for GM-free food and also represent a long-term risk to the environment."

Greenpeace also attacked the announcement, pointing out that a government review of distances between GM and conventional crops had yet to be completed.

Crops attacked

Sarah North of Greenpeace said: "To allow these current crops to flower in the absence of results of the review is monumentally reckless."

Lord Melchett
Lord Melcett: Campaigner against GM trials
Evidence collected from the three-year programme of trials will be examined by the independent Scientific Steering Committee and the results will eventually be made public.

The trial sites announced involve 26 for beet - 11 fodder and 15 sugar - and 32 for spring oilseed rape, five of which are in Scotland.

Sites for trials involving maize, which is sown slightly later in the year, will be announced in the week beginning 26 March.

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See also:

16 Jul 00 | UK
GM protestors invade field
30 May 00 | UK
NFU may sue over GM blunder
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