Flaw in crop trials destroys government case for GM

A A A

Vital tests, which the Government planned to use to justify the planting of genetically modified maize in Britain, have been invalidated, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Michael Meacher - who as environment minister set up the trials, the results of which are due to be published on Thursday - said yesterday that the three-year tests will have to be done all over again, and that until then the Government "could not responsibly license GM crops".

The tests have been rendered invalid by a new European Union ban on a toxic weedkiller called atrazine, which is used on maize but is suspected of causing cancer and "gender-bender" effects. The use of the chemical - which was employed in the tests - is central to the Government's case that growing modified maize is relatively benign to the environment.

The ban - which could not have come at a more embarrassing moment for Tony Blair and his ministers - appears to knock away the last prop of their strategy to introduce GM crops to Britain, crowning a summer of setbacks. In July two reports by the Prime Minister's own officials and advisers, which had been expected enthusiastically to endorse the technology, instead urged caution. And last month a public consultation recorded majorities of nine to one against GM foods and crops.

The EU's move is crucial because the trials specifically concentrated on the effects of using different herbicides on GM and conventional crops. In a manoeuvre which environmentalists suspect was designed to make the tests as easy for the new technology as possible, they did not focus on the main threat: that genes from the modified plants would escape, creating superweeds and contaminating ordinary crops nearby.

However, leaks of the trial results suggest, as first reported by The Independent in the summer, that the herbicides used on two of the three planned GM crops - sugar beet and oilseed rape - damage wildlife and nearby plants more than those used on conventional ones. Growing of GM maize, by contrast, appears to have be found to be less damaging than normal farming of the cereal. Ministers have therefore been preparing to give it the green light, while banning GM oilseed rape, and postponing the introduction of GM sugar beet.

But the GM maize only appeared to perform well because the herbicide used on the conventional crop was the particularly hazardous atrazine. Last week it was banned by the EU under its Plant Protection Products Directive.

The Department of Environment admitted late last week that the ban meant atrazine would have to be phased out in Britain within 12 months: this means it would probably be withdrawn from use before GM maize was grown commercially,

Last night Mr Meacher said; "The ban on atrazine means that the trials are no longer valid because they no longer make a true comparison between the herbicides that would be used on GM and conventional maize. Clearly we have now got to have further trials, using the weedkillers that are actually going to be used. I do not see how the Government can now responsibly license GM crops."

Ministers will still be under pressure to try to find some way of giving the green light to the technology. But the invalidation of the tests and the outcome of the reports and public consultation means environmentalists would almost certainly challenge any such decision in the courts.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Store Sales Executive

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn