Genetically-modified crops are to be grown at more than 60 trial sites across the country, it emerged today.
Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who was due to reveal the locations of the farm-scale trials later today, said the number and range of sites were sufficient to provide "robust scientific results" about GM crops.
Mr Meacher insisted that the Government was being transparent about the trials programme.
"We are being entirely open and transparent about this whole project and about the sites of these field-scale evaluations.
"We will be placing six-figure grid references of all the sites on the DETR web site. In addition to that, there will be a series of around a dozen, maybe more, public meetings near the main sites up and down the country in order to explain the purpose of the farm-scale evaluations," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"The evidence at the end of it, and the results, and this is going to go on until 2003, will be made entirely public.
"We are doing it for very good reasons, because there is no other way of finding out whether or not GM crops cause damage or harm to the environment when compared with similar non-GM crops."
Mr Meacher said it was possible that some of the trials might not go ahead if there were well-founded local objections.
"If those objections are sound and if they stand up to examination then we will certainly take account of them," he said.
He stressed, however, that the trials were vitally important.
"I do not accept that we can be blocked by what I would regard as a Luddite view towards the science ... the Government cannot prevent the import of GM products under EU or World Trade Organisation rules unless they can show that there is a risk to human health or damage to the environment.
"The only way to secure such evidence, if that is what people want, is through these farm-scale evaluations.
"To try to prevent it, either by trashing crops, or by declaring GM-free zones, is simply shooting themselves in the foot."
Mr Meacher said that more than 60 sites for the trials had been identified, and he expected that number to rise.Reuse content