Friends of the Earth has today (10 October) condemned "secret" GM crop trials being carried out across the UK as "arrogant and contemptuous." The trials of GM maize, sugar beet and oilseed rape were announced in a parliamentary answer by the Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries (MAFF) but were not widely publicised.

So far, only one parish, Rowton in Shropshire, has been identified as a site for the trials, which were approved by agriculture minister Nick Brown over a year ago and are being carried out by the National Institute for Agricultural Botany in Oxfordshire, Somerset, North Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Shropshire.

MAFF defended the decision saying that the trials are being "closely observed" and are on a very small scale, in locations that will be made available to the public on request. A spokesman argued that the government has maintained its stance in not permitting commercial cultivation of GM crops, but that it never promised to ban scientific tests. He added: "The consent under which the planting took place is not the same type of consent as that required for the farm-scale trials. It comes under European directives and is tougher."

Environmentalists have already destroyed parts of the farm-scale trials run in conjunction with these trials, and they responded to the latter with similar contempt. A spokesman from Friends of the Earth, Adrian Bebb, said: "[GM] crops threaten organic and conventional crops through cross-pollination. Now farmers don't know where that threat is coming from. This news is outrageous and deeply disturbing."