Government deception in the form of a field

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The revelation last week by the
Independent on Sunday that the Government - in the bulky form of the Agriculture minister, Nick Brown - has given the green (ho ho) light to secret GM crop trials blew a hole in repeated promises that such trials would never be allowed to take place. Understandably, the revelation sparked fury within groups such as the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth - who have made a pledge to monitor GM sites for environmental impact. And it deeply embarrassed the Environment minister, Michael Meacher, who was not informed of the trials.

The revelation last week by the Independent on Sunday that the Government - in the bulky form of the Agriculture minister, Nick Brown - has given the green (ho ho) light to secret GM crop trials blew a hole in repeated promises that such trials would never be allowed to take place. Understandably, the revelation sparked fury within groups such as the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth - who have made a pledge to monitor GM sites for environmental impact. And it deeply embarrassed the Environment minister, Michael Meacher, who was not informed of the trials.

Now we have decided to go one stage further, and have visited one of the sites in Shropshire. A photograph on page 3 reveals an unremarkable view of a maize field, looking like any other. Surely, we may be tempted to think, such an innocent-looking vista of rural idyll can pose no threat.

But that is precisely the problem. Any hazards to the environment from GM crops are invisible. Without openness from the Government, we can have no prospect of monitoring them. A few months ago, it seemed that ministers at the highest level understood this. Tony Blair, writing in this paper, declared: "There is no doubt that there is potential for harm, both in terms of human safety and in the diversity of our environment, from GM foods and crops. It's why the protection of the public and the environment is, and will remain, the Government's overriding priority." Mr Blair went on to discuss his programme of farm-scale trials of GM crops. No mention was made of these tennis-court size trials.

The Prime Minister's words ring hollow in the light of the new revelations. Somebody has deliberately deceived the public over trials that Mr Blair acknowledges have a "potential for harm". "The challenge for governments is to provide the highest level of protection for human health and the environment," wrote the Prime Minister in February. It is a challenge that his government has failed. The villain may be Nick Brown. The deception may go higher up the cabinet food chain. We have a right to know.

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