Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 22:40 GMT 23:40 UK
GM tests get go-ahead
Three farms will grow GM crops in the first round of trials
The government has announced three major trials of genetically modified crops will go ahead on UK farms this year.
The £3.3m contracts for the trials had already been awarded to research organisations, he said.
The first planting has already taken place at a site in Wiltshire. Plans for the second in Oxfordshire are now being advertised locally and the third would be announced shortly, the minister said.
Last month, the UK's biggest farming organisation the Co-operative Wholesale Society pulled out of the government's trials after concerns were expressed by environmentalists.
Around 20 trial crops will eventually be planted, it is believed.
Mr Meacher said the tests would ensure that any future introduction of commercial GM crops would "take place safely".
He added: "The evaluation programme will help address the concerns which have been raised.
"We need to get reliable evidence to help us decide whether the management of GM tolerant crops could have the potential to accelerate the decline in farmland wildlife which has taken place over the last 50 years."
Tests branded "inadequate"
The research will be subject to an independent steering committee of experts which was currently being set up and the results will be made public, he said.
Anti-GM campaigners and environmental groups who oppose the trials claimed on Thursday that the plans for monitoring the crops were not stringent enough.
They fear that GM plants may cross-pollinate with wild plants and cause havoc to wildlife.
They have called for a five-year freeze on moves towards commercial planting until more research has been carried out.
Friends of the Earth criticised the plans as "inadequate" and "unscientific".
FoE food campaigner Pete Riley said the trials were unscientific because they would not provide enough comparison between GM and conventional sites and added they had no "proper safeguards" to prevent cross-pollination to neighbouring crops and wild plants.
Mr Riley said: "These trials are inadequate, unscientific and driven by commercial not environmental concerns."