GM crop trials may be unlawful, admit ministers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The government's policy on genetically modified crops was thrown into confusion yesterday when it admitted that local councils could challenge the legality of its latest GM farm trials.

The government's policy on genetically modified crops was thrown into confusion yesterday when it admitted that local councils could challenge the legality of its latest GM farm trials.

The announcement by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) followed warnings from Greenpeace that the trials were unlawful. The environmental group said it was ready to launch a legal challenge on the grounds that the tests planned for this winter breached planning laws.

Greenpeace barristers claim that the Government needs planning permission for a change of use for the 25 trial sites announced by ministers earlier this month. Permission would have to be applied for and granted by local authorities because the sites were no longer being used for agriculture but for research purposes.

In the light of its legal advice, Greenpeace has given ministers 14 days to either apply for permission or provide adequate reasons for failing to do so. If the Government fails to respond, a judicial review will be sought from the High Court, a move that could freeze the trials programme and de-rail research considered vital by scientists.

But the DETR said last night that it was up to local planning authorities covering the GM sites to take their own legal advice in each case.

The issue of planning permission is currently being considered by West Dorset District Council, which has been asked to assess the legality of a GM maize trial site near the village of Over Compton.

Jim Thomas, Greenpeace campaigns chief, said the group was determined to test through the courts just how watertight ministers' decisions had been.

"The Government's breathtaking arrogance in ignoring the rejection of GM technology by citizens and consumers - as well as the risk of genetic contamination - borders on the criminal," he said. "Now it appears the farm scale trials are riding roughshod over planning law, as well."

Greenpeace acted on the basis of a written answer slipped out in the last days of the parliamentary session, in which Lord Whitty, the GM minister in the Lords, said the question of planning permission could be a matter for the courts.

Greenpeace wrote yesterday to the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Nick Brown, to inform them of its plan to take legal action. According to the group's legal advice, using land for purely research purposes rather than "agriculture" means a material change of use permisson is required. The DETR said it could not comment on the Greenpeace challenge.

Comments