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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK

UK Politics

Tories demand GM inquiry

Environmental campaigners destroying a GM test site

Conservative opposition to genetically-modified foods stepped up a notch on Tuesday when the party called for a royal commission into the testing of the controversial technology.

Food under the microscope
Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo said: "The government should set up a royal commission which would examine the conduct and monitoring of these trials and enforcement of all trial conditions.

"We would expect the commission to complete its recommendations within a year.

"Labour has to act now. If it won't put in place a royal commission then it should consider halting the current farm-scale tests immediately."

[ image: Tim Yeo will oppose GM food until it is proved safe]
Tim Yeo will oppose GM food until it is proved safe
Mr Yeo's remarks are a response to Monday's announcement by the government that trials could be carried out in secret in the future if environmental protesters continue damaging the test sites.

The shadow minister said: "There are too many potential dangers for ever-larger GM crop trials to be continued on an ad hoc basis.

"There is still no law to prevent trials from being set up near or even on land officially protected for conservation purposes or on Sites of Special Scientific Interest."

Mr Yeo also said there was a real danger the GM crops would genetically contaminate organic and conventional farms by cross-pollination.

The calls for action on crop testing were backed by environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth.

Government 'isolated'

FoE director Charles Secrett, said: "The government is becoming increasingly isolated as more and more people begin to realise that these GM crop trials pose an unacceptable risk to both the environment and to the livelihoods of neighbouring farmers.

"The government should act immediately and stop the biotech companies playing Russian roulette with our countryside."

The Liberal Democrats have also made plain their unease over GM crops.

Party leader Charles Kennedy has called for stricter guidelines for trial sites in the UK.

Five-year moratorium

Mr Kennedy said: "The government must come clean over GM crops being grown for commercial use.

"They must immediately introduce a five-year moratorium to ensure sufficient research and testing can take place."

Mr Yeo also said the government could not be considered a disinterested party on the issue as it had held over 100 meetings with GM corporations and funded the programme to the tune of more than £3m.

He added: "We are against the commercial release of any GM crops until or unless there is scientific evidence to prove that they will not harm people or the environment. This is clearly not the case at the moment."

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