GM trials 'have advantages' - farmer

A FARMER at the centre of GM trials in East Anglia last night restated his belief in the process – despite an official report showing some types of crops can harm wildlife.

By David Green

A FARMER at the centre of GM trials in East Anglia last night restated his belief in the process – despite an official report showing some types of crops can harm wildlife.

Jim Dutton, of Sunnymead Farm, Wivenhoe, finished his controversial trial with genetically modified maize last year and said last night he believed there were definite advantages to the product.

His comments came after a report was released by the Royal Society yesterday evaluating farm-scale trials carried out in this region and elsewhere in the country.


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It concluded growing GM sugar beet and oilseed rape is worse for wildlife than conventional varieties.

It has immediately led to calls from environment campaigners for the Government to ban the commercial growing of GM crops.

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However, the report also suggests growing GM maize is better for many groups of wildlife than conventional maize – a finding that brought some succour to a beleaguered biotechnology industry.

Mr Dutton – whose GM crops were trampled by protesters during trials – said he not seen the results of the report, but said when he grew the GM maize it was more successful than the produce which was unmodified.

He said: "There are definitely advantages. The non-GM section of my field had a very powerful weed killer and this meant there were very few weeds. The GM side had quite a lot of weed cover when the crops were harvested, which meant more bugs and therefore more birds.

"Farmers should not shut their eyes to the concept."

The crop grown by Mr Dutton had been designed and altered so fewer sprays would be needed as it grew.

The Royal Society report follows the result of the Government's GM Nation public consultation exercise which resulted in a big "thumbs down" for food made with GM crops.

Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace called yesterday for the Government to ban GM crops in the UK, sentiments echoed by farmer John Sanderson of South Elmham Hall, near Halesworth.

Mr Sanderson, one of the national founders of Farm, comprising farmers opposed to GM, said the new report confirmed what he and his colleagues had long suspected.

He called on the Government to ban the commercial exploitation of the technology.

"The sad thing from farming's perspective is that a hell lot of money has gone into GM research and has been effectively wasted. It could have well been spent on alternative research which would have benefited the farming industry," he said.

Mr Sanderson said the GM issue had caused great damage to farming's image but the UK industry now had a chance to exploit the European and global demand for non-GM food.

Renee Henderson, an East Anglian conservation officer with the RSPB, said the commercialisation of GM beet and oilseed rape could be "disastrous" for birds.

"The farm scale evaluations show that two GM crops harm the environment and ministers now have no choice but to refuse their approval," he said.

Mary Edwards, Friends of the Earth regional campaign co-ordinator for the east of England, said the trials had shown a "dramatic" impact of GM crops on wildlife.

She discounted the GM maize results because atrazine , a banned pesticide, had been used on the conventional "control" crop.

Rachel Juster, senior NFU policy adviser in East Anglia, said the full report of the Royal Society had to be studied closely before any decision was made.

"We do see the potential benefits of GM but at the end of the day we have to recognise that the consumer is king and if consumers are not going to buy GM food then GM crops can't be grown here on a commercial scale," she added.

Dr Paul Rylott, chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, set up by the GM companies, said the farm-scale results showed that GM crops could be grown in a way that benefits the environment.

It all depended on crop type, herbicide use and management practices, he claimed.

Dr John Pidgeon, director at crops research station Broom's Barn in Higham, near Bury St Edmunds, said the information gathered could pave the way for better production of both conventional and GM crops.

"I think there will be some misleading headlines labelling this as a disaster, but that is not what the scientists are saying," he said. "The results are essentially a mixed bag, with some pluses and some minuses."

Environment Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said the results of the new report would be considered as part of a comprehensive risk assessment undertaken for every GM crop.

"I have said consistently that the Government is neither pro nor anti GM crops – our overriding concern is to protect human health and the environment and to ensure genuine consumer choice," she added.

The Royal Society report now goes to the Government's statutory adviser on GM crops, the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment which will make recommendations to ministers.

n Monsanto, one of the main GM companies, has announced the closure of its Cambridge research centre with the loss of up to 80 jobs, mostly involving work on conventional seed varieties.

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