'GM-free' rebellion grows as ministers give crops backing

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The Independent Online

Dozens of regions across Britain are preparing to declare themselves "GM free" after leaked cabinet minutes confirmed the Government is poised to give the go-ahead for genetically-modified crops.

At least 20 local authority areas - and the whole of Wales - are preparing to oppose the planting of GM maize. Another 20 regions have voiced opposition and may also refuse to allow them to be grown.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, has conceded the Government may have to allow GM-free zonesbecause of public opposition. Her department is also secretly planning a compensation fund to pay farmers whose fields are contaminated by neighbouring GM crops.

A government "spin" campaign to sell the benefits of GM is being prepared by cabinet ministers. Pro-GM Labour MPs and government scientists will be alerted in advance of the announcement on GM crops which is to be made "shortly", according to the minutes.

David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, John Krebs, the chairman of the Food Standards Agency, and pro-GM MPs will be given advance warning. "The statement should be supported by briefing, prepared jointly by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Chief Scientific Adviser, and the Chairman, Food Standards Agency, based on solid science and illustrated with examples of practice overseas," the minutes say. "The ground should be prepared with key MPs with an interest in science or food security in developing countries."

The minutes record discussions between senior cabinet ministers including Ms Beckett, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary. Yesterday a spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said no final decision had been reached. The policy had to gain approval of the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament and to be approved by "cabinet colleagues", he said.

Patrick Holden, of the Soil Association which promotes organic food, said pressing ahead with GM crops would be a "tragedy for our country". Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, accused the Government of caving into "big business".