Man who aborted the experiment

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The Independent Online
THE MAN who ordered the destruction of Britain's first farm-scale trial of genetically modified crops is far from being a green radical.

Captain Fred Barker, of Lushill Farm, Hannington, Wiltshire, is a pillar of the community, one of the better-known names in fox-hunting, having been master of the Quorn hunt in Leicestershire and the Vale of the White Horse in the Cotswolds. He has often ridden to hounds with the Prince of Wales, and lives in a world apart from Greenpeace or Genetix Snowball.

The father of five children presides over 3,000 rolling acres near Swindon, most of which is conventionally farmed for oilseed rape, wheat and sheep. It also emerged yesterday that Capt Barker, 62, supports GM crops and thinks genetic engineering is a major and important step.

In spring he accepted the Government's offer to use the land for one of the first big trial growings of GM crops, for oilseed rape modified to be tolerant of powerful weedkillers produced by the German agribusiness firm AgrEvo.

But there was a 200-acre fly in the ointment - the area of beans on Lushill grown to the strict no-artificial-fertiliser, no-weedkiller precepts of the Soil Association, for sale as certified organic produce. And once the increasingly powerful organic umbrella body found there were 24 acres of GM rape on the same farm, they made it clear they did not want the risk of pollution, and one had to go.

If it was the beans, it meant loss of organic status for five years, and probably pounds 50,000 profits. And the three unnamed trustees of the Barker family trust, which controls the farm, felt that was too much. So at the weekend the captain found himself in the uncongenial role of eco-warrior, and had to order the crop destroyed.

"I am very sad we have been forced to destroy these crops," he said yesterday. "But I do not own the land; I am the managing director ... It was not my idea to destroy these crops but the trustees want them destroyed, as they do not agree with them. They are the legal owners, so I had to listen to them ... I believed, when I first planted these crops, just as I believe now, that it is a step forward ... There has been a lot of bad publicity about GM foods but I think it is something this country really must take a part in. There are 26 million acres grown world-wide ...

"I will not get the chance to grow it again. AgrEvo won't want to give me another chance. It must have cost them hundreds of thousands, or thousands - I don't know how much, but it must have been a lot of money."