14 April 2000

Local opposition forcing farmers to end GM trials

By David Green

FARMERS involved in the governments farm-scale trials of genetically modified crops are isolating themselves from their local communities, environmentalists have warned.

Campaigners against GM crops say it is clear that villagers near GM sites are outraged about the trials and feel they are going ahead without sufficient consultation.

This week, a fourth farmer 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 when asked why it withdrew from the trial.

Emma Gibson, anti-GM campaigner for Greenpeace, claimed the farm pulled out of the experiment because of overwhelming local opposition. "We think this continues to show the lack of credibility of the governments farm-scale trial programme. This shows why the government doesnt want to allow the public to have input into the process – because they reject it."

Organic farmers also feel threatened by nearby GM trials. John Dove, an organic farmer from Stow Bedon, Norfolk, claims he was not consulted over the decision to hold the trial which, he believes, could threaten his livelihood.

"If I had been growing organic beet, which we might next year, my Soil Association certification could have been withdrawn," he said.

Mr Dove said the first he had heard of the five acre trial was when a friend saw a public notice in a local newspaper. He asked the landowner, Breckles Grange Farming Company, not to allow the GM crop to be drilled, but the work went ahead last Sunday (9 Apr). He added: "I understood that neighbouring landowners would be consulted before a trial was given the go-ahead."

Ironically, Mr Dove once sold the land on which the trial is taking place, together with his conventional sugar beet quota, to Breckles Grange Farming last year.

Simon Leech, farm manager for Breckles Grange Farming, declined to comment. But the trial has now been moved to about 150 yards from the boundary with Mr Doves farm.

Adrian Bebb, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: "Up and down the country meetings are being held that are absolutely packed. Farmers are becoming unpopular and it is not surprising some are dropping out. We expect more to drop out and do not expect the number of trials to get anywhere near 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 and enter into dialogue with concerned parties.

SCIMAC spokesman Steve Smith said he was still confident that enough trials will be grown to make the project scientifically robust. But the target of 80 trial sites frequently cited in the media was "never an absolute figure," he added. &#42