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Genetically modified crop trials have been effectively halted in Britain
because of protests by environmental activists, scientists said, March 2005
by Duncan Gardham.
The country's leading centre for GM crop research said it had been forced
to move trials abroad or end them entirely because they were constantly torn
up by protesters.
Prof Ian Crute, director of the Government-backed research unit at
Rothamsted, Herts, said: "Every time we attempt a field trial of a new
laboratory-created variety, extremists come along and dig up our plants."
No trials had been attempted for the past 18 months, he added. "We have had
to export our experiments to other countries and they are the ones who will
reap the benefits."
Commercial GM companies halted their involvement when farm-scale crop trials
ended two years ago and, although the results are due out today, they are
unlikely to go ahead with using the technology unless attitudes change.
Dr Julian Little, spokesman for Bayer CropScience, told The Telegraph: "We
are hoping that new legislation which clamps down on animal rights
protesters may be used to apply to us as well, but there is an impasse in
the EU that means we cannot grow our crops commercially anyway."
Chris Lamb, the head of the John Innes research centre in Norwich, said the
Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) had added
to problems by insisting on the publication of sensitive information.
"Every trial we carry out has to be published on a website on which the
site's six-digit grid reference is given," he said. "You may as well put up
an illuminated sign and invite campaigners to dig it up."
Rothamsted, founded in 1843, is the world's oldest agricultural research
station, and carries out ?27 million of research every year, funded largely
by Defra and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Most of the trials conducted there and at the John Innes research centre are
small-scale attempts to grow crops that have been developed in the
laboratory. As such they are more vulnerable to attack by protesters.
There are fears that the vandalism could cause a scientific brain drain on
the same scale caused by attacks by animal activists. Dr Little said he
hoped that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill might come to the
"Trashing our fields has been the least of our problems. Our staff have been
intimidated, things have been scrawled on their property and there have been
site invasions," he said. "In the end it is pointless because we have simply
moved our research to Canada, the US and Australia and there is a knock-on
effect on researchers who won't stay in this country."
Rothamsted researchers are understood to have moved their trials to eastern
Europe and China. They have been trying to grow gluten-free wheat and rape
which would provide healthy oils to replace those found in fish.
Today the Royal Society will publish the results of 70 farm-scale studies of
GM winter oil seed, produced by Bayer CropScience.
The crops are able to withstand spraying with poisons that kill weeds and
insects, but there has been concern about the effects this might have on the
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