26 February 1999

GMcrops – already widely grown

HUNDREDS of acres of farmland were planted with genetically modified (GM) crops last year, despite government claims that farm-scale trials are due to start this April.

Almost 200ha (494 acres) of GM oilseed rape was grown in England and Scotland last year in a trial for Calgene, a company owned by Monsanto.

The modified rape was grown on sites as big as 37.5ha (92 acres), farmers weekly can reveal. It was modified to produce oil containing lauric acid, used in detergents and some foods.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker told BBC radio last week that GM trials were "about the size of two pitches in the whole of England", and most were the "size of a dining table".

A MAFF spokesman denied Mr Rooker had understated the area of land used for GM crop trials.

"Jeffs comment about the two football pitches was about the area actually under cultivation at the moment," he said. "Obviously were in February which is the middle of winter, and so theres not much being grown."

But environmental groups accused the government of misleading the public both over the area of GM crops grown in the UK and the size of the trial sites.

"These arent little strips of land – these are the size of small farms," said Adrian Bebb, food campaigner for Friends of the Earth.