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Thursday, 3 August, 2000, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
GM trials unveiled amid row
Oilseed rape
Twenty-five new sites will be used for GM crop trials
Provisional details of the 25 sites involved in the latest tranche of GM field trials have been published.

Location of test sites
Lincolnshire, 6
Cheshire, 1
North Yorkshire, 2
Herefordshire, 2
Warwickshire, 2
Gloucestershire, 1
Cambridgeshire, 1
Nottinghamshire, 1
Norfolk, 2
Worcestershire, 1
Leicestershire, 1
Aberdeenshire, 3
Highland County, 1
Leicestershire, 1
Twenty-one of the sites are in England, with four in Scotland; the final details will be confirmed later in the year.

The trials, which are being condemned as irresponsible by environmentalists, are for this year's winter crop of oil seed rape and are designed to test the effects of herbicide-tolerant GM plants on the environment.

The news comes as a committee of MPs have criticised the government's handling of the recent contamination of conventional crops with GM material.

MPs said the government's response to the incident was confused.

Crop trials

Environment minister Michael Meacher unveiled the details of the scientific programme of farm scale evaluation on Thursday.

The application to grow the crop - winter oil seed rape - was made by the company Aventis.

The plants have already passed EU safety tests.

Saying the government remained committed to protecting the countryside, Mr Meacher said: "The programme of trials is essential."

It would, he said, help prove the safety or otherwise of the crops.

The trials have proved consistently controversial since they first began.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth says the exclusion zone of 200 metres around the test crops is way too small and have demanded compensation for bee keepers whose hives may be affected and organic farmers whose crops could be contaminated.

Speaking for Friends of the Earth Liana Stupples accused the government of "flogging a dead horse" by continuing with the trials.

Campaigners' crusades

Farmer tending GM seedlings
The winter GM crops will be planted soon
Environmentalists have repeatedly targeted farms where the trials are being carried out, damaging the crops, while some farmers have dropped out of the experiments.

Those opposed to the trials say that so many trial sites have been destroyed that future experiments lack scientific validity.

But Professor Chris Pollock, of the scientific steering committee overseeing the trials, said that while protest action had hindered "the organisation and execution of the experiments", future trials would still go ahead.

GM seed blunder

In their report into the contamination of conventional rapeseed planted across the UK with GM material, MPs on the Commons Agriculture Select Committee found there had been confusion in Whitehall over which department should handle the mix-up.

It is vital that they can be sure that their crops are protected as far as possible from inadvertent cross-pollination

Agriculture committee
The MPs called for better measures for farmers to be able plant their conventional crops in total confidence.

In the incident, about 600 UK farmers sowed what they thought was conventional rapeseed but around 1% of it proved to be have been genetically-modified.

In June it was decided that those farmers, in Scotland and other parts of the UK, who unknowingly planted the contaminated seeds would benefit from a 1.2m compensation package.

The committee said: "Clearer procedures are required for dealing with incidents of this kind."

The MPs also want segregation distances between GM and other crops to be reconsidered.

Campaigners break into a field of GM crops
Campaigners have targeted GM trial sites
"For farmers near the field trials, it is also vital that they can be sure that their crops are protected as far as possible from inadvertent cross-pollination which will require a rapid assessment of the consultation on segregation distances and an equally rapid implementation of the advice which emerges as a result."

The cross-party committee said seed companies needed "urgent regulatory guidance" to try to prevent future mix-ups.

And it called for input from the newly-established Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.

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See also:

20 Jul 00 | Scotland
New GM trial proposed
20 Jun 00 | Scotland
Flaw discovered in GM crop trial
16 Jul 00 | UK
GM protestors invade field
09 Jun 00 | Scotland
'No harm' from GM crops
30 May 00 | UK
NFU may sue over GM blunder
17 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
GM trials: The long hot summer
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