Minister makes pledge

11 June 1999

Vow to see out GM trials after landowners U-turn

By Jonathan Riley

FARM-SCALE trials of genetically modified crops will continue, despite a landowners decision this week to destroy modified oilseed rape in what was the countrys largest trial site.

The 10ha (24.7 acres) of spring oilseed rape, part of a trial for biotech firm AgrEvo, was sprayed off by Fred Barker at Lushill Farm, Hannington, Wilts.

Although he regretted aborting the trial, Captain Barker said he was forced to take action following pressure from the farms trustees. They were unhappy that other crops on the farm could lose their organic status because of the trial.

Deeply disappointed

A spokesman for AgrEvo said he was frustrated and deeply disappointed at the trial being aborted. "We have contacted the owners of the remaining six sites and we are confident that they are fully committed and the trials will continue.

"The trials are designed to ans-wer vital questions about the effect of GM crops on the environment. Weve wasted a lot of time through Captain Barkers actions, and the chance to derive valuable data."

But, despite Captain Barker breaching a contract with AgrEvo to grow the plants, the companys spokesman said there were no plans to try and recoup losses through court action.

"As the pressure mounted last week, Captain Barker kept us informed of the situation at all times with the farms trustees and assured us that he is strongly in favour of genetic modification.

Concerns unjustified

"I believe there was some correspondence between Captain Barker and nearby organic farmers which may have added to the pressure. But their concerns over cross- pollination are unjustified because no organic rape is grown in the UK," he said.

But Patrick Holden, director of the organic body the Soil Association, said: "This is not an issue affecting organic farmers alone. Any farmer producing food for the major retailers is expected to be GM-free. The more GM crops are grown, the more conflicts between farmers will arise.

"SCIMAC (the Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops) has decided on a barrier of only 6m between GM crops and conventionally farmed brassicas. At least a six-mile radius is needed." &#42

Director quits Welsh union

UNSPECIFIED personal reasons have led to the resignation of a top Farmers Union of Wales executive.

Mary James, director of agricultural policy for the FUW, has quit after 22 years with the organisation. A spokesman said would be greatly missed, but he declined to say why she was leaving. But he emphatically denied rumours that Mrs Jamess departure was a result of her disagreement with the FUWs strong stance against the Welsh Assemblys appointment of a vegetarian farm minister. &#42

Scrapie payments

COMPENSATION for sheep or goats slaughtered in June because they are suspected of having scrapie will be £23.25 if the disease is confirmed at post mortem, and up to £400 for non-confirmed cases. &#42

Minister makes pledge

FARM minister Nick Brown repeatedly promised farmers at the Royal Bath and West of England Show that he was determined to fight the farmers corner and help them adjust to the new circumstances.

"It is possible to shape small, medium and large farm businesses to build on strengths to meet the challenges in future," he said, adding that he wanted farmers to work with him to find the answers. Government was looking for partnership and co-operation.

Answering questions, Mr Brown said he was campaigning to get animal welfare recognised in the next round of world trade talks so that the UK did not risk exporting its farm industry because it wanted higher welfare standards. "This has to be resolved", he said. The issue, he added, was being discussed by all the EU farm ministers.

On general support for agriculture, Mr Brown said he would like to use rural development funds to help farms of all sizes develop their businesses so they got a proper return on their investment. "It is Governments duty to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who run farm businesses, as well as act as stewards of the countryside, to make sure they get through to profitability," he said. &#42

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