Meacher attacks US 'pressure' over GM

Michael Meacher reignited the row over genetically modified crops yesterday, admitting that Britain was being pressed by the US to allow commercial planting. However, the Environment minister insisted he was "sceptical" of the benefits of GM and insisted: "We are not going to be bounced into this by the Americans."

Any decision to open up commercial planting of GM crops would be based on hard evidence, he said in an interview with The Independent.

Mr Meacher acknowledged that opponents of GM technology believed the changes were being "steamrollered through", but insisted that the public would be able to see all evidence on the impact of GM crops before widespread planting went ahead.

Asked whether America was pressing for expanded GM production, Mr Meacher said: "Well, you know there is. The Americans are very keen. The amount of the prairies which have been cultivated with GM is colossal."

Mr Meacher insisted that he was "on the sceptical wing" of the argument over GM. "Those people who do feel very strongly about it, to the extent of going around ripping up crops, they may continue to do so.

"But what I think many of them object to is the feeling that the Government is steam rolling it through. There has been intense hostility expressed in many quarters. However, it is fair to say there has never really been a controlled and balanced debate."

The Environment minister's remarks are likely to inflame the controversy over the Government's handling of the GM issue, which received a blow last week when it emerged that trial crops have been contaminated with unauthorised GM seeds since the trials began.

Mr Meacher acknowledged that the decision would be "sensitive" But, he said: "We are not saying we have a little closed group of five people, and we are going to take a decision and tell you in our wisdom what we are going to do. We are going to tell you what the evidence is."

The Government's farm-scale trials may not give an accurate picture of the impact GM crops may have on the environment, he admitted. "We are talking about the impact on plants, on invertebrates, on birds, on insects," he said. "It's, what, 100 sites each year? But if you have general commercialisation you may get different effects over and above what these isolated fields will show."

Some of the herbicides which would be used on GM crops if they were grown in Britain could "wipe out" a whole swathe of conventional crops, he warned.