6 April 2000
Meacher let me down — GM host

By FWi staff

AN ESSEX farmer hosting a genetically modified crop trial has accused the government of abandoning him to face fierce opposition from environmental groups.

Guy Smith, whose farm at Wigboro Wick, St Osyth, near Clacton, is the site of an oilseed rape trial, has written to environment minister Michael Meacher asking him to do more to reassure the public.

He writes: “I find that I am left on my own trying to defend the decision to host a trial in the face of near-hysteria and the work of powerful pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.”

But a spokesman for the governments GM crop unit said the government has consistently stated that the trials are essential to evaluate GM crops.

This week Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth upped the pressure by using their websites to reveal the full addresses of 26 of the 31 farms initially holding trials.

The government had previously identified the location of sites by a six-figure Ordinance Survey grid reference and the name of the nearest village.

Greenpeace, which generally advocates direct action to achieve its aims when other methods have failed, denies it is encouraging protestors to rip up sites.

Its GM campaigner Sarah North insisted the list was published to tell local people site locations because government references were “not very accurate”.

She said: “This was not done to encourage activists – they could get this information anyway. It was done to advise local people whose livelihoods could be at risk from cross-pollination.”

But farmers taking part in the trials say government information, advertisements and meetings have already made locals aware..

Bob Fiddaman, NFU representative on pro-GM body SCIMAC is running an oilseed rape trial at Wood Farm, Piccots End, Hemel Hempstead, in Hertfordshire.

He said: “It looks like theyre doing this because they want to get as many activists as possible to go to the sites.”

Robert Partridge, who is hosting a fodder beet trial at West Sampson Hall, Kersey, Suffolk, said: “Their argument is nonsense, as weve already let the neighbours know.”

Richard Thompson who is trialling sugar beet at High House Farm, Tittleshall, Norfolk said: “Local people know all about the trial anyway as there was a parish meeting about it.”

The GM crop unit dismissed Greanpeaces claims that government grid references were inaccurate.

A spokesman said: “That is simply not true. We gave out six-figure grid references, and you cant get more precise than that.

“We have always been open and transparent over this issue and reject these accusations out of hand.”

Earlier this week, the Soil Association has claimed that 34 farmers could lose their organic status because their crops risk contamination from GM trial sites.