British GM crop trial programme expanded

Biodiversity evaluation tests panned by NGOs; industry says they will answer scientific questions

The biodiversity implications of farming genetically modified (GM) crops are to be tested at up to 80 UK sites this spring in farm-scale trials of maize, beet and oilseed rape, the country's environment ministry announced today.

Up to 10 hectares of each test site will be planted with a GM variety and the rest with an equivalent non-GM crop. Researchers will study effects on weeds and insects as well as pollen transfer and cross pollination, said the ministry. Environment minister Michael Meacher reiterated that commercial growing of GM crops would not be permitted "until we are satisfied that there will be no unacceptable effects on the environment".

Environmental groups, which oppose the tests, reacted with dismay. "The whole process has been nothing short of genetic tyranny with an almost complete absence of consultation," said Greenpeace. Friends of the Earth accused the government of "gambling" with Britain's countryside. But industry organisation SCIMAC welcomed the decision, saying: "The public has a right to know the facts about this technology, based on objective scientific data".

The government first announced farm scale trials of GM crops in 1998 (ENDS Daily 21 October 1998) and nine were run last year (ENDS Daily 16 April 1999).

Follow Up:
UK environment ministry, tel: +44 20 79 44 30 00; {Greenpeace UK}, tel: +44 20 78 65 82 55; {{FoE}}; tel: +44 20 74 90 15 55; SCIMAC, tel: +44 1353 653 200.

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