22 March 2002

Anti-GM crops campaigners question choice of trial sites choice

By Isabel Davies

CAMPAIGNERS against GM crops are questioning the basis on which trial sites are chosen after it was revealed one parish in Dorset will have five sites in the governments farmscale evaluation programme.

Four field trials of maize and one of oilseed rape are planned for the village of Bincombe, between Dorchester and Weymouth.

The maize trials are among 35 proposed sites for England published by DEFRA on Thursday (Mar 14). The oilseed rape trial is one of 44 rape and beet sites announced at the end of January.

Peter Riley, real food and farming campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said it was appalling that five trial sites were going to be imposed on one community.

If trials were to reflect where maize was grown then at least 40% did have to be in the south-west, admitted Mr Riley. But he questioned why 10 were in Dorset but there was none in Devon and Cornwall.

"It undermines the credibility of the whole trial. It is clear they are scrabbling to find people to take them and the way trials are chosen has to come under close scrutiny."

Trial sites are chosen by an independent scientific steering committee which aims to pick sites which range in intensity of management and geography. A list is provided by GM industry body the Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops.

But SSC chairman Christopher Pollock said he was happy with the list of potential sites which had been put forward and with the spread of sites achieved over the three-year trial programme.

Although some of the sites were geographically quite close, Prof Pollock said they met the necessary criteria for the experiment. "It doesnt affect the validity of the study. We are confident that the sites put forward will allow the central hypotheses to be addressed."