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Curb on GM crop trials after insect pollution
By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent - ©The Telegraph (uk)
(Filed: 14/10/2003)

Stringent new rules for trials of genetically modified crops are to be imposed after Government researchers found that insects carried pollen more than six times the distance previously known.

They also found one sowing of GM crops could contaminate non-GM and organic crops for more than 16 years.

The research, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, came as thousands of people protested in London against GM crops and delivered a 70,000-signature petition to Downing Street yesterday.

On Thursday the Government will publish results of field-scale trials of GM crops. They are expected to show a deterioration in farmland biodiversity among at least two of the three GM crops.

Meanwhile, the row between Europe and America over GM crops moved up a gear yesterday when Margot Wallstrom, the Environment Commissioner, accused US biotech companies of "trying to lie" and "force" unsuitable GM technology on to Europe.

She said public suspicion and fears about the technology had been fuelled by US lobbying tactics.

Whitehall sources said the Government was concerned at a public backlash should it decide to commercialise GM crops after considering the results of the farmscale trials.

Yesterday's findings by Government scientists give further cause for concern as well as grounds to back down on the Prime Minister's favoured plan of licensing GM crops next year.

Scientists at the Central Science Laboratory found that GM oilseed rape had cross-pollinated with non-GM oilseed rape plants more than 16 miles away.

A second study by the Scottish Crop Research Institute found that if farmers grew GM oilseed rape for one season it would take 16 years for contamination by wild GM plants produced by seed from the first planting to fall to below one per cent contamination.

Even at this level, the contamination would not be sufficient for a farmer to sell his crop as GM-free or organic, qualities that demand less than 0.9 and 0.1 per cent contamination respectively.

Pete Riley, GM campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "If GM contamination cannot be controlled on test sites, what hope is there if GM crops are widely grown?"

The findings played a part in leading the Government to stipulate new restrictions on test plantings after a biotech company supplied impure, genetically-modified oilseed rapeseed at 12 trial sites.

Elliot Morley, the environment minister, said: "We are determined to have effective systems in place to ensure consumer choice whatever the future of GM in this country."

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