Fearful farmers shun trials of GM crops

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TESTS TO measure the impact of genetically modified (GM) crops on the environment are being jeopardised because farmers are fearful of threats from eco-warriors. Scientists in charge of government trials say that many farmers are unwilling to take part because they believe their land will become a focus for environmental activists.

The field trials were to be the first large-scale attempts to assess the risks to wildlife from GM crops and are designed to be run by independent institutes without funding from commercial organisations.

However, Professor Mike Roberts, the scientist at the Natural Environment Research Council responsible for the project, says in an interview on the BBC Panorama programme tonight that the experiments could fail if they are attacked by extremists. "If we can't find enough farmers willing to participate, that would certainly jeopardise the trials. If they are going to come under the sort of pressure that we are seeing at the moment, clearly many of them will think twice about it," Professor Roberts says. "The consequence would be that we would not have a fully validated field study. We would not be able to answer the questions which the public and the Government are asking of the scientific community."

The trials, costing pounds 3.3m for three types of herbicide-resistant crop, are due to run until 2002 and will compare GM and non-GM crops at more than 20 sites throughout Britain.

t Two reports published tomorrow - by the British Medical Association and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee - are expected to voice concern over GM foods, particularly the lack of clear labelling.