Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, told the Labour party conference in Bournemouth that there would be no commercial plantings in the UK until he was convinced there was no risk to human health or the environment.
But Mr Meacher's insistence that trials should continue was undermined when a new study showed that pollen from a farm site in Oxfordshire had travelled beyond the 50 metre separation distance designed to protect neighbouring crops.
The research, carried out by the National Pollen Research Unit, for Friends of the Earth, found that GM oilseed rape pollen had been carried three miles by bees and nearly 500 metres by air. The study, the first published since the trials began, was seized on by environmentalists as evidence of the threat that GM crops posed to non-GM and organic farmers, bee-keepers and the environment.
Mr Meacher said: "There will be no commercial plantings in the UK unless and until we are convinced that we have enough information to be sure that there is no risk to the human food chain and no damage to the environment," he said.
"If the results of the trials show that there are unacceptable consequences, then there will be no commercial plantings at all. That is the only rational way to proceed."
Mr Meacher declared that his policy was sensible, right and would in the long term "even prove popular", but abandoning the trials would remove the "one route" that could allow an outright ban. "The truth is there are some potential environmental and agricultural benefits from GM technology as well as some commercial opportunities for the UK. Those who vandalise the trials are saying that their views - not backed up by science - should take precedence over all others. Frankly I think that is arrogant and undemocratic."
Mr Meacher's commitment to a ban was welcomed by environmentalists. But Charles Secrett, executive director of FoE, said that the new research at Model Farm, near Watlington, Oxfordshire, proved that it was time to impose a moratorium on all trials.Reuse content