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Sunday, 8 October, 2000, 04:47 GMT 05:47 UK
Small-scale GM trials revealed
Oilseed rape
The small-scale trials have been under way for a year
Small-scale trials of genetically modified crops are being carried out at locations across England, it has been revealed.

The trials of GM maize, sugar-beet and oil-seed rape have been under way for more than a year but have not been widely publicised.

A Ministry of Agriculture (Maff) spokesman said they were approved by Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown and announced in a parliamentary answer.

The sites are in Oxfordshire, Somerset, North Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Shropshire, and are being run by the National Institute for Agricultural Botany.

Although members of the public can ask for the precise details of where each trial is located, Maff said no official list had yet been drawn up.

It said the consent needed for the small-scale trials was not the same type required for the 25 farm-scale trials that had attracted protests by environmentalists.

"It comes under European directives and is tougher," said a Maff spokesman.

"These are scientific trials on very small sites, very closely observed and observing all the separation guidelines."

Contamination

The trials are designed to test the effects of herbicide-tolerant GM plants on the environment.

The larger trials have proved consistently controversial since they first began.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth said the exclusion zone of 200m around the test crops was too small and demanded compensation for bee keepers whose hives might have been affected and organic farmers whose crops could have been "contaminated".

Greenpeace executive director Lord Peter Melchett
Lord Melchett was acquitted of theft and criminal damage
Environmentalists have repeatedly targeted farms where trials are carried out, damaging the crops, while some farmers have dropped out of the experiments.

In September, 28 members of the environmental pressure group Greenpeace were acquitted of theft and criminal damage after destroying GM crops at a Norfolk farm last year.

The group, which included Greenpeace's executive director Lord Peter Melchett, said they were acting out of necessity to prevent neighbouring farms from being damaged by GM pollen.

In May this year, it was also revealed that 600 farmers had unknowingly sowed GM seeds mistakenly supplied to them by Canadian firm Advanta.

The oil seed rape was sown on more than 11,000 hectares of land in Scotland. Farmers were advised to destroy the crops by the government.

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