12 May 2000

Local referendum says no to GM trial

By David Green

AN Essex farmer whose farm-scale trial of genetically modified oilseed rape was called off two days before a local referendum says he will not rule out future participation in the testing programme.

The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC) decided to abandon the trial at Guy Smiths farm at Wigboro Wick, St Osyth, near the seaside resort of Clacton.

It blamed the decision on the uncertainty and delay surrounding use of the site.

Two days later local residents voted on the question: Should GM crops be grown in the parish of St Osyth?

More than 850 people turned out – 25% of the electorate – and 630 (74%) voted "no".

Mr Smith had pledged to abide by the result in respect of his plans to allow Aventis to plant GM oilseed rape on his land this spring.

But he said this week that he did not intend to let the vote force him to rule out participation in the trials or the planting of a commercial GM crop at a later date.

"I have no present plans to plant GM crops, but circumstances, including public opinion, may change and I am not ruling it in or out for the future," he said.

Mr Smith said he had decided to abide by the result of the referendum over the planned trial partly because, if he had gone ahead in the face of community opposition, activists might have targeted the crop.

Although he accepted the result of the vote, only one in five of the electorate had voted against the sowing of GM plants in the parish.

Mr Smith said he believed GM crops offered the prospect of environmental, agricultural and economic benefits.

Friends of the Earth, which is campaigning against the introduction of GM technology, called the result a "tremendous victory" for the people of St Osyth. &#42