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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 03:26 GMT 04:26 UK


Farmers 'jeopardising GM crop trials'

GM foods have sparked protests by environmental groups

Trials of genetically-modified crops could be put at risk by the lack of farmers willing to take part, the BBC has learned.

Food under the microscope
Worries about the possible environmental impact associated with the trials are also highlighted in BBC One's Panorama programme, to be screened on Monday.

Professor Mike Roberts, from the Natural Environment Research Council which is in charge of running GM crop trials for the government, told the programme: "If we can't find enough farmers willing to participate that would certainly jeopardise the trials.

"If they are going to come under the sort of pressure that we are seeing at the moment, clearly many of them will think twice about it.

'BMA advice overruled'

"The consequences would be that we would not have a fully validated field study.

"We would not be able to answer the questions which the public and the government are asking of the scientific community on this issue."

Evidence is also presented suggesting that advice from the British Medical Association (BMA) on the labeling of GM foods, as long ago as 1993, was overruled by a government appointed committee looking at the issue.

BMA spokesperson Dr Vivian Nathanson told the BBC: "We were extremely concerned.

'Nothing is risk-free'

"We felt that it was essential that food be labelled so that the public could choose whether or not to eat these products and know what they were eating."

Jack Cunningham, the government's cabinet enforcer, accepts there are risks associated with GM crop trials from things like cross-pollination by bees.

Dr Cunningham told the programme: "Well nothing is risk-free in life is it? We don't live in a risk-free world.

"The potential for the bio-sciences in the British economy is enormous, and it would be foolish for us, for this government, to cut ourselves off from that potential."

Panorama will be shown on BBC One at 2205 BST.

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