Farmers and biotechnology companies say that in a third of cases activists tear up test versions of new conventional crops instead of GM ones, which are outwardly identical. The damage costs thousands of pounds.
In the past few they have torn up crops at dozens of the 300-plus sites around the country conducting GM tests. But they have failed to stop any trial.
"Thirty per cent of the damage by GM activists in the past two years has been to conventional crop trials," said Roger Turner, chairman of Scimac, which represents plant breeders and growers. "There's a delicious irony about it: by delaying the tests on new conventional crops, the protesters make it more likely that GM crops will get market approval first."
On Friday the Royal College of Agriculture (president: the Prince of Wales) decided not to test GM crops at its farm. Mike Limb, the farm's director, said that "we would not want to be exposed to the antics of unruly protesters running amok."
New strains of conventional crops go through the same rigorous test regime as GM ones, and may be tested on the same farm. Activists often work at night and GM tests sites may be as small as a suburban back garden - so they are easy to miss.
In Kings Newton, Derbyshire, farmers and scientists now erect signs on non-GM test sites, pleading with activists to spare them. "We know they will be coming across the fields but we cannot erect 10 foot fences," said one farm worker.
David Hames, the farmer at Lodge Farm in Kings Newton, said he now has reservations about the future use of his land for GM testing. "When I let the testing company have space here I didn't know that much about GM crops but I know more and feel differently now.We have become the targets, even though this work is experimental." Activists did pounds 18,000 of damage to new crops at his farm last year.
Last week, CPV Twyford, of Thriplow, Cambridgeshire, became the first company to quit testing, saying attacks on fields of trial crops were costing it thousands of pounds.Reuse content