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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK


Co-op pulls out of GM trials

The government wants to test GM crops

The UK's biggest farming organisation has pulled out of government trials of genetically modified crops after concerns were raised by environmentalists.

Sue Macgregor and the CWS's Bill Shannon discuss the GM crop trials on BBC Radio 4's Today programme
The government is due to announce details of the trials, which will involve growing limited areas of GM crops for four years to monitor the effects on wildlife.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), which farms 80,000 acres across the UK, was to have hosted two of the trials.

But the CWS says it will be pulling out of the tests for this year as it believed the tests themselves could raise the very fears they are designed to allay.

Spokesman Bill Shannon said: "Few people would disagree that what is required are properly conducted scientific trials to assess the environmental impact of GM crops.

[ image: Environmentalists fear the effects of GM crops on wildlife]
Environmentalists fear the effects of GM crops on wildlife
"However, we feel there is as yet no clear consensus of opinion among the various interest groups as to how this should be achieved and we have decided not to take part.

"We do not believe the commercial growing should take place until properly-conducted field trials have demonstrated there are no environmental problems.

"We are certainly not against genetically modified organisms in principle but our discussions with various parties led us to conclude that the design of this year's trials would do little to allay current environmental and consumer concerns."

He said the CWS had not ruled out taking part in future tests.

Friends of the Earth welcomed the CWS's decision.

Senior food campaigner Pete Riley said: "The Co-op should be congratulated on its responsible and courageous decision.

"The government's proposed GM trials are rushed, secretive and unscientific.

"If CWS, with its reputation for responsible and progressive farming, won't take part, then surely the government should admit defeat and cancel the trials for this year."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the trials would continue, even without the CWS's involvement.

He said: "The CWS were invited to take part in this important research but we have heard that they have decided not to participate.

"They are free to make their own decisions and we cannot comment on their reasons.

"However, we consider the research to be extremely important because it does what a lot of people have been asking us to do - that is more trials and more testing on a wider scale to look at the effects on farming and wildlife."

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