In a tranquil English field, we find the Government's secret GM crop

A A A

The photograph on the right shows genetically modified maize, growing in a Shropshire field. We know where it is, but we can't tell you.

The photograph on the right shows genetically modified maize, growing in a Shropshire field. We know where it is, but we can't tell you.

The farmer says he has nothing to hide, but is worried for his own safety. We have chosen to respect his wish for anonymity, in order not to make him a scapegoat. Public accountability is the main issue at stake, rather than the actions of any one farmer.

The Government has repeatedly sworn to be open about GM trials - but still it refuses to reveal the location of this and at least four other experimental crops across England.

And it is fighting a proposed European law which would force it to put the sites of these experiments - and any future commercial GM crops - on a public register.

"There is no doubt that there is potential for harm, both in terms of human safety and in the diversity of our environment, from GM foods and crops," wrote the Prime Minister in this newspaper last February (see above). "The protection of the public and the environment is, and will remain, the Government's over-riding priority."

The environment minister, Michael Meacher, ordered map references to be published so that neighbouring farmers and protesters alike would know the locations of 25 farm-scale trials being carried out into the safety of GM crops.

But last Sunday we revealed the existence of a new - secret - clutch of GM trials in fields across England, authorised by the agriculture minister Nick Brown. Not even Mr Meacher knew where they were. Mr Brown was under no obligation to tell him.

On Monday the ministry revealed the parishes in which the experiments were being held to Friends of the Earth. They were Shirburn in Oxfordshire, Brockley in Somerset, Bramham-cum-Oglethorpe in North Yorkshire, Histon in Cambridge- shire and Rowton in Shropshire. But officials still would not give exact locations.

The Independent on Sunday set off to find the one which was said to be in "the parish of Rowton", in the quiet countryside near Telford. In fact no such civil parish exists, and the farm in question does not even fall within the boundaries served by Rowton parish church.

The small square of 8ft-high maize is an eerie and unexpected sight, rising from the centre of an otherwise uncultivated 30-acre field, on the side of a shallow valley. The crop is enclosed by a low electric fence, to keep rabbits out.

On Friday the farmer - we shall have to call him Mr G - said he had been "led to believe" that the trial taking place in his bottom field was on a register, and therefore public knowledge. No protesters came near the farm after the crop was planted in March, so Mr G assumed he was safe. But when the new list of secret trials was published, campaign groups began searching all over the county for the site. They have yet to find it.

Most of the 500 maize plants in the field are conventional, but about a tenth have grown from seeds genetically modified by the Franco-German company Aventis to withstand herbicides.

This GM maize is the same as that destroyed by Lord Melchett and 27 other activists who were acquitted by a jury in September, and is the subject of a current public hearing into whether it should be grown in Britain at all.

The crop in Mr G's field was planted by staff from Harper Adams College in Newport, Shropshire. At first Charles Murray, of the agriculture department there, denied the college had any involvement with GM testing. However, when pressed he said: "I can't tell you about it. It's not my job to. The whole thing is very secret." The college has grown and monitored the crop for the National Institute for Agricultural Botany, which is itself under contract to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The office from which Mr G runs his farm is difficult to find in the maze of country lanes between villages. The business established by his father now employs 120 people, with a turnover of £12m-£15m. The dairy herd was sold years ago, the pigs have gone, and the sheep will follow by the end of this year. The family makes its money by managing farmland for absent owners, using it for the large-scale production of eggs, cereals and potatoes for crisp manufacturers.

When the college approached Mr G in March there was much talk of farmers feeling too intimidated to offer trial sites, for fear of protesters. "It was a worry," he said on Friday. "But at the end of the day you have to have conviction. You can't just stand still. If someone's playing around in the lab, at some point you have to have field trials. To humanise it, at the moment people are having flu jabs - but who were the first guinea pigs for those? Someone has to do it. You have to trust good science."

The most he would earn from the trial was £72, he said, as compensation for the payment that would have been due if the land - less than an acre - had been set aside. "It's important to stress that, because people think we're getting up to £15,000."

He took the trial on out of principle, because the potential for GM crops being used for good was "colossal".

The maize would be harvested in the next fortnight, he said. "All they've told me is that they're taking it away, evaluating it, and the whole crop is destroyed at the end so there's nothing left on the farm."

The farmer was advised to put safety first in the event of a protest. "They've left me a couple of telephone numbers to ring if a whole load of people turn up in white suits, but they've quietly suggested that I don't put my family or my staff in jeopardy."

Mr G said he would not have agreed to the trial if any of his neighbours had been growing maize, or feeding their dairy cows on it. Likewise, he had decided against growing GM oil-seed rape because they farmed the ordinary version.

"Since all this media hype was drummed up I have been told that one of my neighbours is starting to go organic," he said. "I believe he is something like six miles, 20 or 30 fields, three roads and a village and a half away."

Mr G insisted he had not known the trial was secret. "In the early stages I was led to believe that it was on a website somewhere. I believed I was on a national register."

Safety had now become a worry. "I have discussed it with my wife this morning. I'm not at home very much, like a lot of farmers this time of year, out in the fields. It is concerning not to know what you're going to be confronted with, and what some of these extremist youths and people actually do."

"If you could find me then I'm sure a lot of other people could."

Last night, Tim Yeo, the shadow agriculture minister, said that the Independent on Sunday's rapid discovery of the site showed it was "ridiculous to keep the trials secret". He said he was now calling for all five locations to be made public.

He added: "If ministers want to have any serious chance of getting this technology accepted, they have got to act in a more open and honest way."

But the Government is resisting a new European measure that would force it to be open about all its GM sites.

News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
News
His band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Assistant Management Accountant -S/West London - £30k - £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: We are working with an exciting orga...

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager required, S...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering