Benn gives go-ahead for new GM potato trial

Ministers have given permission for thousands of GM potatoes to be grown in Britain, a decision that is bound to provoke a new confrontation with environmentalists.

Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment , has agreed to let scientists at Leeds University cultivate the potato, which has been engineered to resist eelworm, in a trial over the next three years in a test field near Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. The GM Freeze protest group is considering taking legal action.

The move follows repeated clashes over a different experimental GM potato, modified against blight, in Britain last year. Trials had to be abandoned following protests by environmentalists and local farmers.

The scientists, from Leeds University's Faculty of Biological Sciences, are to grow around 1,200 potato plants at Headley Hall farm, near Tadcaster. They have added a gene to the potato's roots that is designed to give it resistance to eelworm – which costs British farmers around £645m a year in lost yields and pesticide costs.

Pete Riley, of GM Freeze, is particularly worried about the inclusion of a gene that confers resistance to the antibiotic neomycin, which he says could interfere with its medical effectiveness.