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Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 12:00 GMT
GM group hits out over chemicals
GM crop destruction
Protesters have destroyed some GM crops
Environmental campaigners fighting genetically-modified crops are being accused of making Britain dependent on chemicals and pesticides.

A group set up to argue the case for GM foods, CropGen, has accused the campaigners of "condemning Britain to a chemical future".

The group says that in trials, GM plants have needed up to a third less artificial pesticides than conventional crops and this could help reduce farmers' over-dependence on chemicals.

Greenpeace GM logo
Greenpeace says organic farming is the way forward
On Friday, the government committee overseeing GM trials gave the go-ahead to the next phase after suitable test sites had been identified.

Since GM trials began in the UK, some opponents have vandalised and destroyed certain crops.

They say not only are the effects on humans and the environment unknown, but also ordinary crops could become contaminated.

GM crops can be devised to kill insects but the environmentalists' concern is to what extent insects will develop resistance to the modified crops

'Devastation' warning

Now, CropGen, which represents the biotech industry, wants to nip opposition to the new trials in the bud.

The group says GM food is the way forward for meeting the world's demand for supplies.

And it even argues that biotechnology could help enhance diversity in the countryside.

Dr Guy Poppy, a member of the CropGen panel, said if "alternative" agricultural practices are not allowed, the effect on wildlife and the environment could be "devastating".

He said: "While organic farming provides an alternative with its lower use of pesticides, it alone cannot provide a sustainable food supply for the UK population.

"GM crops hold one of the best hopes we have for not only preserving but enhancing diversity in the countryside."

Organic future row

CropGen said the proposed farm-scale trials will provide extra UK evidence of the effects, if any, of GM crops on bio-diversity.

Panel chairman, Professor Vivian Moses, said: "We have to expose the hypocrisy of organisations which call for more research into the safety of GM crops, as they destroy the very evidence they demand must be collected."

The argument now is likely to focus on organic farming. Anti-GM campaigners argue that this is the best solution, but CropGen says organic methods cannot satisfy the demand for food.

CropGen is sponsored by a consortium including Aventis CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Novartis Seeds but the companies cannot vto any scientific position taken by the panel of academic scientists.

Chemicals 'irony'

Friends of the Earth said GM crops and the farm-scale trials pose a potential threat to the environment and livelihoods of anyone wanting to farm without the new technology.

It said CropGen is funded by companies that stand to make massive profits from the commercial growing of GM crops.

FoE food campaigner Pete Riley said: "While it is heart-warming to hear its concerns about the dangers of pesticides, it's ironic that CropGen's sponsors include some of the companies that spent a good deal of the last century persuading farmers to use these chemicals in ever greater quantities."

He said the 3m of taxpayers' money spent on trials would be better spent on research into sustainable ways of growing food.

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See also:

25 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
GM firms fund friendly scientists
10 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
'Sites found' for GM farm trials
27 Feb 00 | UK Politics
Blair shifts on GM food
30 Sep 99 | Food under the microscope
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