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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Defra overrides public concern to write regulatory blank cheque for untested GM

Immediate release (8 May 2017)

Press contact: Liz O'Neill, 07811 211 404, liz[at]

Despite 119 public representations raising a wide range of concerns, Farming Minster George Eustice quietly gave consent [1] on 27 April to a controversial open air field trial of GM potatoes that have not been tested under controlled conditions.

The trial will see experimental potatoes planted in an open field at The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) in Norwich for the next four years. Field trials usually follow an extensive programme of greenhouse experiments but TSL stated in its application that most of the potatoes in this trial had not yet been created, much less tested in a more controlled environment. This was a key concern in objections lodged against the trial, including a detailed, fully referenced, multi-agency objection signed by 33 organisations including farmers, scientists, retailers, caterers and environmentalists [3].

Liz O’Neill, Director of umbrella campaign GM Freeze, which coordinated the multi-agency objection to the trial said:

We are deeply concerned that Defra has signed a regulatory blank cheque in consenting to the planting of experimental potatoes which have not even been analysed in a test tube, much less properly studied under controlled greenhouse conditions.

In addition to a number of technical concerns, objections to this trial raised issues of food safety, the risk of GM contamination and the fact that these potatoes will be of no net benefit to society.  Writing on 27 April, Eustice stated that he had “taken advice from the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment [ACRE]”. However, that ACRE advice [4] explicitly states that it “does not include a food safety assessment” and “has not addressed issues that are not safety concerns.”

O’Neill finds this unacceptable.

More and more people are objecting to GM field trials, but their concerns are being ignored. What we grow and eat is intrinsically linked with our values as a society. Good governance is about more than narrow technical risk assessments and it is entirely unacceptable to dismiss concerns about the wider economic, social and societal impacts of GM crops. These may not be in ACRE’s remit but that doesn’t mean they should be disregarded by our elected representatives.”


For more information, please contact: Liz O’Neill, 07811 211 404, liz[at]


GM Freeze is the UK umbrella campaign on GM food, crops and patents. GM Freeze is working to create a world in which everyone’s food is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably.

[1] The consent letter for this trial can be viewed at

[3] The multi-agency response can be viewed at

[4] ACRE’s advice on the trial application can be viewed at