Eco-warriors' protests `risking super weeds'

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The Independent Online
ENVIRONMENTAL protesters who tear up fields of genetically-modified (GM) crops could be helping to create the "superweeds" that they fear, the Government warned yesterday.

So far this year, 21 trial sites of GM plants in Britain have been hit by "eco-warriors". That latest was an attack by Fife Earth First! on a field of genetically-modified oilseed rape resistant to herbicide on an Edinburgh farm. Protesters tore up plants in a field to form a giant "X" shape hundreds of feet across, and left behind an "X-files" flag.

But the Department of the Environment (DoE) warned that if the plants have already blossomed and produced pollen, then people who walk in and out of the fields could inadvertently carry that pollen outside the "boundary separation areas". There it would be able to cross-breed with other plants and weeds, potentially creating new weeds resistant to herbicides.

"The eco-warriors may be themselves responsible for something that they are against," said a spokesman.

Biotechnology companies are stepping up security around their experimental fields of genetically-modified (GM) crops, after the Edinburgh protest. Some are considering whether to lobby the Government to change the rules on trials of GM plants, so locations can be kept secret. But the DoE said yesterday that that would be impossible, because EC law insists that the locations must be published, and the Government would not be sympathetic to calls for change.

Biotechnology companies are left in a quandary, since there are tests of GM plants running at about 300 locations around Britain. Each one is identified with a map reference in a public register that is published on the Internet.

"The only way to ensure their security would be a 24-hour guard," said Des D'Souza, biotechnology project director at AgrEvo UK, based in King's Lynn. "For most companies that's not practicable, especially if you have a number of sites." He did hint though that security at the company's sites - which have been among those hit - had been increased.

However, Martin Ward, general manager of Advanced Technologies Cambridge (ATC), one of 14 companies running trials of GM crops in Britain, said: "I think that there is an argument that people don't need to know which field a trial is in."

He said that eco-protests were unproductive: "They argue that we need to know more about these plants - that is what these trials are trying to show. We're never going to get anywhere if every time we put them in a field, it gets ripped up."

But Matthew Herbert of Fife Earth First!, responded: "If somebody suggested we should take an unknown substance and test its toxicity to humans by feeding it to people, you'd think they were mad. We can't release genetic pollution into the wider environment and then say it's not safe later. Genetic pollution is invisible and keeps spreading."

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