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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK


Meacher: GM crop trial will stay

Environmentalists want 25 acres of GM crop seeds ploughed up

Environment Minister Michael Meacher insists that the UK's first farm-scale trial of genetically-modified crops will not be ploughed up despite protests.

Food under the microscope
Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) says the planting was carried out illegally because the firm responsible failed to inform the public about the trial at Lushill Farm, near Swindon, Wiltshire.

Under rules laid down by the Department of the Environment any company carrying out a trial must publicise the event in the local press.

'No rules broken'

FoE said that AgrEvo had acted illegally because it had published details in the Gloucestershire Echo - a newspaper not widely read in the trial area and not available in the newspaper shop of the nearest town.

Michael Meacher: "The rules have been obeyed"
It has written to Mr Meacher urging him to order the crops to be ploughed up.

But Mr Meacher told the BBC's Today programme that the company had complied with regulations.

He said: "They haven't broken the rules. The farm is within the circulation area of this newspaper."

[ image: Michael Meacher says no rules have been broken]
Michael Meacher says no rules have been broken
The company was informed of the situation by FoE and it now plans to advertise in the Swindon Evening News, but it said it had no plans to halt the trial.

Mr Meacher said: "It's going to be published in another newspaper in case there is any doubt in anyone's minds.

"That's not the issue. The issue is that we do need these tests to be undertaken in order that we can evaluate exactly what is going to be the effect on weeds and insects and on wildlife."

A spokesman for the biotechnology company said: "We took information from a local source about which paper would be best to place a public notice about the site.

'Decisive action'

"There has been no breach of the regulations but as an act of good faith when FoE came to us we agreed to post the notice again."

Peter Riley of the Friends of the Earth: Local people were not informed
FoE food campaigner Peter Riley said: "The government must take decisive action and stop these farm-scale trials from going ahead until the correct procedures have been followed."

The trial site measures 25 acres and is planted with oilseed rape.

Four trials are expected to be held to assess the environmental impact of growing GM herbicide-resistant rape and maize.


The government has been urged to halt the sale of GM foods while more tests are carried out.

Even the government's advisory body English Nature has expressed doubts about the tests, saying that the small scale and design of the trials does not render them 'scientifcally sound'.

Mr Meacher said: "I accept that four or six fields is inadequate for our purposes.

"The reason for this is nothing to do with the government. It's because the industry has not managed to come up with more GM seeds than will cover six fields."

The tests are due to be carried out over a four-year period. Mr Meacher said he could not say whether there would be enough information to judge whether GM crops should be planted commercially.

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