British Farmer Destroys Genetically Modified Crop

Gina Miller (
Mon, 7 Jun 1999 12:48:33 -0700

Monday June 7 11:17 AM ET

British Farmer Destroys Genetically Modified Crop By John Morrison

LONDON (Reuters) - British campaigners against genetically modified (GM) crops claimed victory Monday after a farmer bowed to local opposition and destroyed his trial crop of GM oilseed rape with weedkiller.

The environmentalist Green Party, hoping that consumer worries about food safety would help it win its first seats in the European Parliament, called Monday for a total ban on field trials of modified oilseed rape and maize.

``There is a huge unease out there,'' Green candidate Dr. Caroline Lucas
told a news conference. ``We have seen it on the doorstep.''

Polls show British consumers are nervous about GM ingredients and supermarkets have been competing to remove them from their product lines. The European Union has strict rules on genetically modified foods amid growing public hostility, while the United States has approved many GM products.

Another Green candidate, David Taylor, said it was clear that the Labor government was now ``totally isolated, even among some of its own backbenchers'' in its support for GM technology.

He predicted that widespread public concern over the issue would boost his party's chances when British voters go to the polls Thursday to elect 87 Euro-MPs. An eight or nine per cent share of the vote would be enough to give the Greens, previously marginalized by Britain's first-past-the post electoral system, one or two seats.

The Green campaign was boosted by the news that a farmer in Wiltshire who was carrying out one of three full-scale field trials of GM rape had reluctantly destroyed the crop on instructions from the trustees of his farm.

Farmer Captain Fred Barker said the trustees were against the program because of fears the rape could contaminate nearby organic crops.

``It is with great regret that I have had to abort my GM trial,'' Barker
told BBC radio. ``I have no option but to follow my trustees' wishes in destroying the crop.'' The 25-acre field was doused with weed killer Saturday morning.

Taylor praised the decision. But Environment Minister Michael Meacher, seen as the minister most skeptical about GM crops, said he was ``sorry and disappointed'' it had been taken.

He told ITN television news that the government was listening to the protestors.

``We are not pro-GM and we are not anti-GM,'' he said. The controversial
field-scale trials were essential to find out whether GM crops would harm wildlife and the environment.

Heir to the throne Prince Charles, an organic farmer, put the government on the defensive last week with a newspaper article raising doubts about GM technology.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday his government was not a strong advocate of GM foods, but he was merely in favor of keeping an open mind.

Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
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