Advisers warn GM trials are inadequate

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The Government has got it wrong on genetically modified crops and must do more to satisfy public concern before allowing them to be grown commercially in Britain, ministers are told today in a hard-hitting report from their own GM advisers.

The Government has got it wrong on genetically modified crops and must do more to satisfy public concern before allowing them to be grown commercially in Britain, ministers are told today in a hard-hitting report from their own GM advisers.

The current programme of farm-scale trials of the crops is not an adequate basis for the decision to allow commercial planting, and other considerations, including ethical ones, must be taken into account, says the report from the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.

More science, more openness, more public consultation and more care about separation distances between GM and organic crops are all needed before a decision can be taken, says the 40,000-word report, Crops on Trial.

The report raises the stakes over the adoption of full-scale GM agriculture in Britain, making it much more difficult for its most prominent supporter, Tony Blair, to push it through. It will make it virtually impossible for GM crops to be grown on a wide scale without considerably more public involvement in the decision.

The commission ­ which is chaired by Malcolm Grant, professor of land economy at Cambridge ­ was set up by the Government last year as an advisory body on biotechnology issues affecting agriculture and the environment.

The report, its first, insists that the Government's criteria for allowing large-scale commercial GM crop planting have to be widened.

Ministers had intended to base the decision on the results, expected in 2003, of the three-year programme of trials of GM maize, beet and oilseed rape, which is examining whether the weedkillers that the crops have been genetically engineered to tolerate might be harmful to the surrounding countryside.

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