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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK

UK Politics

Government acted illegally on GM

GM crops have faced sustained opposition from campaigners

Green campaigners have scored a victory over ministers after the government announced it was wrong to allow changes to a trial of genetically-modified food.

BBC Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore: "This is an embarrassing clampdown"
But Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the decision not to contest a judicial review won by Friends of the Earth was made on technical grounds and was not based on fears over the crop's safety.

Mr Meacher also said that despite the fact legality of the crop planting had been successfully contested by Friends of the Earth, he believed the trials of autumn oil seed rape should not be dug up.

[ image: Michael Meacher: Safety is not the issue]
Michael Meacher: Safety is not the issue
He said AgrEvo UK had planted the crops in "good faith" and should not be forced to abandon its trials.

Friends of the Earth have already said they will seek a court order to have the crops removed.

They also insist that the company, which planted the crops last week, could not have acted in good faith as it must have already been aware of the legal challenge to its trials.

The pressure group's biotech campaigner Peter Riley told BBC News Online: "Michael Meacher can hardly argue that they weren't aware of this legal challenge to their crop trials."

He said the company had been aware of the legal challenge since August.

[ image: Green protesters destroy GM test crops]
Green protesters destroy GM test crops
In its court case FoE had successfully claimed the government was wrong to allow the firm to change the GM crop being tested without submitting a new application for permission.

They also challenged the decision to quadruple the area of land used and double the length of the trial from six months to one year.

Mr Meacher said: "Following legal advice the government has decided not to contest the judicial review proceedings instigated by Friends of the Earth in respect of licensing of certain GM trials."

Michael Meacher: "We have acted illegally"
"This is a technical issue, not one of safety. The government's programme of farm-scale crop trials will continue.

"It is absolutely vital that we have these trials. They will tell us what effect, if any, growing GM crops may, or may not have, on Britain's wildlife."

Food under the microscope
Mr Meacher added: "We are proposing next year that there should be 25 fields sown for each crop.

"That proposal has not changed. This year is a dry run, a preparation for the next three years.

"We need to be sure that the statistics and methodology are all properly in place, that the requirements of the scientific steering committee were fully met, so that statistically valid conclusions can be drawn from sowing in 25 fields per crop over the next three years."

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