12 July 2002

Government names GM rape trial sites

THE government has named 18 sites for final-year trials of autumn-sown genetically modified oilseed rape.

Two sites are in Scotland with the other 16 distributed around England from Dorset to Durham.

The sites were approved for the government programme of Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of herbicide-tolerant crops. With the 50 trials over the previous two years already assessed, this brings the total number of sites within the original target of 60-75, said DEFRA.

Results from the trials, designed to investigate the effects of GM crops on the environment, are due to be assessed by scientists next summer. Ministers have pledged there will be no commercial growing of GM crops until they are completed. Even then the crops must be shown not to cause "unacceptable environment effects".

But environmental group Friends of the Earth said it was wrong that the trials would coincide with a national debate on whether GM and non-GM crops can co-exist.

Campaigner Pete Riley said the trials spread GM pollen, which "threatens" neighbouring crops and the environment.

He accused the GM industry of hosting the trials in parishes where local residents and neighbouring farmers had already raised concerns. "Clearly the biotech industry is struggling to find new farmers to take part, despite the incentives on offer."

Claims rebuffed

But the Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricul-tural Crops (SCIMAC) rebuffed the claims. "The response from farmers has been quite phenomenal, with more and more growers coming forward each year to take part in the programme," said SCIMAC chairman Roger Turner.

No farmers had lost organic or non-GM status as a result of the trials, which had been a success, he said.