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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 05:31 GMT 06:31 UK
No GM 'could jeopardise orchards'
By Yvette Austin
Environment correspondent, BBC South East

Seedlings at the research centre
A total of 30% of the orchards in Kent have disappeared

There are warnings that the face of the Garden of England is under threat, unless the county embraces genetically modified fruit.

One of Britain's leading GM scientists, based in Kent, says without GM, fruit farms and orchards across the county could disappear and eventually only imported fruit will be available.

Professor David James has been experimenting with genetic modification in fruit for nearly 20 years.

Based at Horticulture Research International in East Malling he has found ways to extend the shelf life of apples, control tree size and prevent mould in strawberries.

Disappearing orchards

It is the only place in Britain which carries out such research, but funding has dried up.

And when Professor James retires later this year, no-one will be taking his place.

Of the orchards in Kent, 30% have disappeared in recent years.

Professor James has warned that failure to implement modern genetic improvements could lead to the further undermining of the apple industry and see the further grubbing up of orchards in favour of cereal plantings.

The Soil Association disagrees as it has said traditional breeding methods can be used to grow improved fruit, such as mould resistant strawberries.

It adds that this along with increasing organic production will help ensure the survival of the county's growers.

It is all part of a debate which will reach its climax in the autumn when the government decides whether or not to grow genetically modified crops commercially.

Kent farmers will be watching with interest.

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