14 April 2000
Fifth GM trial in doubt

By David Green

ANOTHER trial of genetically modified crops is under threat after an Essex farmer pledged to allow local villagers to decide whether it should go ahead.

Arable grower Guy Smith said he would abide by a local referendum called in response to plans for a farmscale trial of GM oilseed rape trial on his land.

Mr Smith farms at Wigboro Wick, St Osyth, near the seaside resort of Clacton. Local residents have voiced strong objections to his proposed GM trial.

Six villagers have successfully applied to the local authority for a referendum due to take place on 4 May. Mr Smith said he would abide by the result.

He believes the GM programme has attracted unjustified hysteria but said he would feel “uncomfortable” going ahead with the trial without local acceptance.

“I will abide by the outcome of the referendum for the sake of community goodwill,” Mr Smith told Farmers Weekly.

“I dont want to attract trouble-makers who could claim the trial was proceeding in defiance of local feelings,” he added.

Four other GM trials planned for this year have already been postponed following opposition from residents in surrounding villages.

Campaigners against GM crops have warned that farmers involved in the trials crops are in danger of isolating themselves from their local communities.

They believe it is clear that villagers near the GM sites are outraged and feel that the trials are going ahead without sufficient consultation.

This week, a fourth farmer bowed to public pressure and pulled out of the GM trials after local villagers at a public meeting voiced their opposition.

George Thompson Ltd at Tittleshall, Norfolk, was due to have grown GM sugar beet. The company refused to comment on the reason for the withdrawal.

Emma Gibson, anti-GM campaigner for Greenpeace, claimed that the farm pulled out of the experiment because of overwhelming local opposition.

She said: “This shows why the government doesnt want to allow the public to have input into the process, because this is what they do – they reject it.”

Adrian Bebb, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: “Farmers are becoming unpopular and it is not surprising some are dropping out.”

He added: “We expect more to drop out and do not expect the number of trials to get anywhere the original target set by the scientific steering committee.”

The Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops, which oversees the trials, said it was always willing to listen to the publics doubts.

Steve Smith, SCIMAC spokesman, said he was still confident that enough trials will be grown to make the project scientifically robust.