If the government allows field scale trials of GM to go ahead on schedule, Britain is risking increased incidence of foot and mouth, according to a group of farmers who petitioned agricultural minister Nick Brown this week.

As foot and mouth continues to spread across Britain's countryside at an alarming rate, Lincolnshire farmer Peter Lundgren has organised a letter to Brown to ask that the trials be postponed. 

"Four of the proposed trial sites are within a confirmed foot and mouth exclusion zone and […] nine trials are in zones of a suspected outbreak or very close to a confirmed outbreak," reveals Lundgren in the letter, explaining that there are four important reasons why the farmers "are demanding the postponement of the field scale trials of genetically modified crops."

The first of those reasons involves the fact that the scientists observing the trials may easily spread the highly contagious foot and mouth virus as they move between the farm sites, which are situated throughout the country. Furthermore, if the farming industry is prepared to continue with "non-essential activity," then the case for convincing members of the public to take every possible precaution against foot and mouth is severely damaged.

The role of the public in the trials is the source of more unrest for the farmers, who expressed a "deep determination to protect [their] farms, livestock and future from this terrible disease." Heightened anxiety amongst local members of the public towards the GM trials naturally creates increased traffic around the sites, which in turn may spread the disease. Hosting a public meeting to explain the nature of the trials will also have the same effect. 

Lundgren claims that his feelings are echoed throughout the country: "Not one farmer declined to add his name to the list below and we believe that the vast majority of farmers, particularly livestock farmers, endorse our petition."

By Clare Harman, just-food.com editorial team


A full transcript of the letter can be read below: 


Peter Lundgren,
White Home Farm,
Branston Fen,
Lincoln. LN3 5UP
01522 514880 / 01526 398309

Rt. Hon. Nick Brown M.P. Minister for Agriculture
19/3/01

Dear Minister,

We, the undersigned, are farmers scattered throughout the country. Some conventional farmers; some organic farmers. Some arable farmers; some livestock farmers; some mixed farmers. Some members of the NFU; some not. Some pro GM; some undecided.

We all share a sense of horror at the slaughter of animals caused by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We all watch the television news with a sense of foreboding, enormous sympathy for those affected, and a deep determination to protect our farms, our livestock and our future from this terrible disease.

In order to protect our businesses we are demanding the postponement of the field scale trials of genetically modified crops. We want an immediate halt to the planting of all the spring sown genetically modified trials and a review of how, and if, the growing winter GM trials can be monitored safely.

We believe that we are right in saying that four of the proposed trial sites are within a confirmed foot and mouth exclusion zone and that nine trials are in zones of a suspected outbreak or very close to a confirmed outbreak.

There are four reasons for our demands:

1. From Sussex in the south to Scotland in the north the scientific observers will be moving between farms. Although we accept that these are responsible people who will take every precaution there is a risk that they will be spreading the disease between the farms hosting the trials.

2. The trials cause considerable local public anxiety and there is always an increase in vehicle and pedestrian traffic around the trial site as people try to identify the field that is to be planted with GM seeds from the limited information in the public notice to assess the implications for themselves. These people, although well intentioned, will walk onto farmland and into farmyards in their desire to find the site; often farmland and farmyards not owned by the host farmer. These people will not be taking the proper precautions necessary to stop the spread of foot and mouth disease.

3. Rural communities are very aware of the dangers involved in gatherings, and farmer's meetings are being cancelled all over the country. There is a requirement for consultation to take place when a GM trial is announced but without public meetings it is impossible for proper consultations to take place with the local farmers and population.

4. Farmers cannot demand that dog owners, ramblers, golfers, racegoers, tourists, bird watchers, anglers, even politicians behave responsibly and take every precaution to stop the spread of this disease when the farming industry is carrying on with a non- essential and potentially risky activity.

We recognise that in the wake of foot and mouth the farming industry will need the sympathy and support of the British public as never before, and in order to gain that support the farming industry must be able to demonstrate that it has done everything within its power to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

We believe that the risks in continuing these trials outweigh the need for these trial crops to be planted.

We add that not one farmer declined to add his name to the list below and that we believe that the vast majority of farmers, particularly livestock farmers, endorse our petition.

Signed.

cc.
DETR
MAFF
IACR
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Central Science Laboratory
Scottish Crop Research Institute
British Trust for Ornithology