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Release of GM crop to get official approval approved for release

THE GOVERNMENT is set to defy environmentalists by approving the Europe-wide commercial release of a genetically modified crop currently being tested in the UK.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions will next week vote at the European Union to allow so-called Part C approval of GM oilseed rape. The herbicide-tolerant crop, being developed by biotech giant AgrEvo, is part of current farm-scale trials devised by the Government to test the safety of the technology. France, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg will all vote against the application, which aims to allow the crop to be used in animal feed and to be planted commercially.

But the UK Government is poised to vote "Yes" following the advice of its scientific advisors, The Independent has learned. It is understood that the Government believes that it has not legal grounds to refuse approval, but other EU countries claim that there is "unacceptable uncertainty" to allow the application. Environmentalists claim that the vote, which will be made ahead of a meeting of environment ministers, undermines the whole system of trials backed by ministers.

Friends of the Earthclaimed that it proved that ministers had not changed their stance of supporting the GM industry despite recent attempts to reassure the public. Charles Secrett, FoE's director, said: "The Government has been sneaky with the public. In Britain, they tell us loudly that they haven't made up their minds, yet in Europe they are voting the way the industry wants."

A spokesman for the Government's specialist GM press unit refused to comment on the way it would vote next Tuesday.