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GM Test Locations Should Remain Public says GM Freeze

Immediate release (28 Jul 2008)

Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065

Calls for the location of test sites for GM crops to be made secret should be rejected.

The call was made by scientists involved in testing GM potatoes in the UK at a press conference today.

GM Freeze want full public involvement in deciding if test sites should go ahead based on local considerations. To illustrate why local involvement is needed, the group point to last year’s application to grow a test site of GM potatoes made by the German biotech corporation BASF near Hedon in East Yorkshire. On this occasion the site owner withdrew the site after it was announced because of the concerns of local borage growers and beekeepers, who were worried about contamination of high value borage honey. If the test had gone ahead in secret, the presence of GM pollen from the test site in honey may have been the first indication of a problem and impacted upon sales of honey.

GM Freeze also point out that the last major set of GM trials covering over 150 sites [1] were completed on time and the results published despite the location being openly available. Several sites were voluntarily withdrawn because of concerns about possible GM contamination in the neighbourhood after local referendums or public meetings.

France does not make locations of GM test sites public and this has not stopped protests.

Claims by scientists that direct action against GM test sites is the reason for very few taking place are dismissed by GM Freeze. They list many other reasons related to the regulations and commercial decisions by biotech corporations:

  • GM herbicide tolerant oilseed rape and beet were not approved because of evidence of long-term harm to farmland wildlife so no further tests were needed.
  • No market for GM crops because of supermarkets and manufacturers banning GM ingredients so there was no reason to test new crops.
  • Monsanto abandoned plans for GM cereals because of lack of EU markets demonstrated by public rejection of GM products.
  • Bayer Crop Science halted work on GM maize after being given approval by the UK government.
  • The biotech industry has not come forward with any insect resistant crops that would find a market in the UK because pest levels do not merit them.
  • Modern applications of traditional plant breeding are progressing and producing good quality crop varieties without resorting to GM, eg: marker assisted breeding [2].
  • All GM seed varieties which had been entered for National Listing were voluntarily withdrawn by the applicants because of lack of market demand thus removing the need for further outdoor testing.

Public announcement of sites would also enable local monitoring of the site to ensure conditions of the authorisation were being adhered to.

Commenting on the proposal to make GM test sites secret, Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:

It is ridiculous to suggest that direct action is the main reason for lack of UK test sites when the biotech industry’s commercial decision have far more to do with it. Secret test sites would not work in a country as small as the UK. We don’t have prairie-scale farms like Canada where, in any case, big problems of GM contamination have occurred. Secrecy would disrupt rural communities and potentially cause long-term harm to relationships. GM is not a popular technology because people have concluded that it is impossible to contain pollen in the field where it is grown. If the Government is minded to change the law regarding the location of test sites then they should allow local communities decide what is best for their parish. It’s called local democracy.


Calls to Pete Riley 0845 217 8992 or 07903 341 065.

[1] The farm scale evaluation were sponsored by DEFRA to test the environmental impact of GM herbicide tolerant oilseed rape, beet and forage maize. They ran from 1999 to 2003 in England, Scotland and Wales. A full set of results were published and used by the Government to ban GM herbicide oilseed rape and beet.

[2] Marker assisted breeding identifies which genes are present in individual plants before they are crossed to ensure that the desired characters are in the off spring.