2 May 2000
‘GM trials impervious to rain’
By Donald MacPhail
SPRING downpours will not affect the outcome of trials of genetically modified crops, insists a farmer who has just drilled his trial site.
Double the usual April rainfall left many of the 50 farmers taking part in the controversial trial unable to drill GM oil seed rape, beet and maize.
It had been reported that this delay could result in them missing the window for spring planting and delay the government experiments.
But by Tuesday (2 May) the weather had improved sufficiently for Bob Fiddaman to drill 25 acres of GM rape on his Hertfordshire farm.
Mr Fiddaman, who farms at Wood Farm, Piccots End, Hemel Hempstead, is the National Farmers Union representative overseeing the GM trials.
Although yields may be down, the scientific data from the trials would still be valid, he told Farmers Weekly.
“These trials were never about yields, they were about the technology and how it handles in the field. This will not be affected.”
Mr Fiddaman said conventional crops had also been delayed by bad weather.
Meanwhile, an Essex farmer due to host a GM trial is waiting for the result of a local referendum of villagers before deciding whether to proceed.
Guy Smith who is due to plant GM OSR at Wigboro Wick, St Osyth, says he would feel uncomfortable going ahead without community acceptance.
But Mr Fiddaman said Mr Smith was “mistaken” for agreeing to the referendum as questions could be slanted away from science to personal opinions.
If the question asked whether GM technology is safe, then that would be acceptable as science could be used to argue the case, he added.
“But if people are asked whether or not they like GM technology, then that is a very different question.”
The trials have been dogged with controversy since they were announced.
Environmental groups claimed the government was struggling to find enough farmers willing to participate, a claim which pro-GM groups denied.
Last week, Friends of the Earth branded the trials “a shambles” after revealing that one intended site was located in supposedly GM-free Wales.
Last month, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) published precise locations of trial sites, claiming the move was designed to inform local people.
But participating farmers said they had already made locals aware and that the environmentalists were merely seeking to encourage protestors to target sites.