GM crop trial abandoned
Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
A genetically modified crop trial which campaigners say threatened a nearby organic research centre has been abandoned.
Environmental groups welcomed reports that the agricultural industry body which chooses trial sites had decided to withdraw a maize crop trial planned for Wolston, near the Henry Doubleday Research Association Ryton Organic Garden, in Warwickshire.
Scimac (Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops) had come under pressure to abandon the trial from groups such as Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
In a statement, Scimac said the trial had been abandoned in "direct response" to a request from Michael Meacher, the minister responsible for the government's trials programme.
Scimac said Mr Meacher was concerned that the project could damage public confidence in future GM trials and in the organic site.
The statement said: "Mr Meacher's request was based on concerns that the publicity surrounding this site was potentially damaging to public confidence in the farm-scale evaluations programme and the reputation of Ryton Organic Gardens. Scimac recognises the significance of both issues."
But it added: "Scimac has consistently maintained that there was no legal or scientific basis not to proceed with this trial, and no risk to the organic status of Ryton Organic Gardens."
Scimac and the government insist they are still committed to GM trials.
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, said he was delighted the Wolston crop would not be planted. "We remain implacably opposed to the trial sites programme and believe that in the long run the GM trials are a threat not just to organic farming, but also to any farmer who wants to farm free from the risk of GM contamination," he said.
He said the agriculture industry needed to map out a non-GM and sustainable future for farming in this country.
Conservationists feared that pollen from the herbicide-tolerant maize could contaminate plants at the Ryton Organic Garden. Dr Mark Avery, conservation director of the RSPB, had threatened to withdraw his organisation from the scientific steering committee of the farm scale evaluations of GM crops unless the Wolston trial was abandoned.
He said Scimac was "bungling" the handling of the trials, and planting the crop would have resulted in direct conflict with organic farmers.
The maize crop had received European Union approval, but was part of the voluntary agreement between government and industry that ensures no commercial release of GM crops until the field scale trials are complete.
Professor Chris Pollock, chairman of the scientific steering committee, last week wrote to Mr Meacher saying that his committee did not have the expertise to advise on distances in relation to pollination of other sites such as the Ryton centre.
He warned that the loss of any site without replacement made it more difficult for the farm scale evaluation programme to meet its original scientific aims and objectives.
The Conservatives also put pressure on the government over the GM maize crop and pledged to halt the trial if they got into power.
Mr Meacher said on Monday he was pleased Scimac had withdrawn the site and that all parties had secured their objectives. "Scimac has responded positively to public concerns which have restored greater confidence in the farm scale evaluation programme," he said.
"I remain strongly committed to the completion of this programme because Britain urgently needs an independent test on the impact of GM technology on the environment."