9 July 2002

Green groups warn of GM pollen spread as more crop tests unveiled

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent

The location of the last round of experimental genetically modified crops to be planted in
Britain were announced yesterday amid accusations that they would "spread pollen far and wide".

Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, said the 18 GM oilseed rape projects will be planted in August, many on farms already hosting trials. The results will be used to evaluate whether to allow the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain next year. Sixteen of the sites are in England and two in Scotland.

The Department of the Environment (DoE) said yesterday's announcement gave resident in the planting area six weeks' warning before the GM seeds were sown. "All the seeds in the trials have been through years of rigorous safety tests," a DoE spokesman said. "The trials are to investigate the effects on biodiversity from the farming practices associated with the particular GM crops in the study."

The crops would not be planted near organic farms. Last month Australian researchers found
fields of oilseed rape could cross-pollinate with other crops up to three kilometres away. The
separation distance between the GM oil seed rape sites and conventional crops is 50 metres.

Friends of the Earth claimed the Government has found it hard to convince farmers to participate in the last round of "field-scale" trials.

"This final round of GM experiments contains some very familiar parish names," Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said. "Many have already hosted trials without taking into account the
concerns of local residents and neighbouring farmers. Clearly, the biotech industry is struggling to find new farmers to take part, despite the incentives on offer."

The crops have been vandalised by environmental groups. Government officials fear farms
participating in the last round will be subject to similar protests. The Government has promised a public debate on whether to allow biotechnology companies to grow GM food commercially in Britain.