UK: Environment minister questions government GM crop trial
By the end of this week, the government plans to have planted GM crops at a new test site, a farm in Wolston, Warwickshire. Concerns have increased however over the effect this will have on an organics centre just two miles away.
Ryton Organic Gardens, run by the Henry Doubleday Research Association, houses an important seedbank and has conducted organic crop trials for the EU and the UK Government. Environmentalists argue that the trials of herbicide-tolerant maize endanger the work and the organic status of this high-profile centre. Cross-pollination, they say, could have a "truly catastrophic effect" on the environment.
The Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) insisted that the trials must go ahead, but Environment minister Michael Meacher has made a last-ditch appeal to relocate the site, apparently contradicting the reassurances of his department by highlighting the risks of cross pollination.
An official in the DETR wrote to a concerned organic farmer in the area: "The GM maize at Wolston should not affect the organic status of the sweetcorn grown at the Henry Doubleday Research Centre. The organic status of plants other than sweetcorn and maize cultivated at Ryton should also not be in question.
"Our advice is that at a distance of 2kms the amount of cross-pollination between maize crops is likely to be zero."
Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme however that the centre "has a worldwide reputation, and if [the trials] were allowed to go ahead, the GM pollen could cross-pollinate with three crops of organic sweetcorn that are grown at Ryton, and that in turn could contaminate the seedbank."
"Any trace of GM in the research centre's fields could lead to the loss of its licence from the Soil Association to grow organic crops. That would be a disaster," he added.
The minister also admitted that the choice of Wolston farm for the trials was "highly provocative," and he revealed to the Independent on Sunday newspaper: "Clearly there has not been proper consideration of the impact of the choice on a highly prestigious organic research centre of this kind."
Meacher also admitted that he may be about to test the law that means he can only intervene and prevent the GM crops being planted if they will create "damage to the environment" or pose a risk to human health. He commented that it is necessary to determine whether "damage to the environment" could be taken to mean damage to the crops of nearby farmers.
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