(OrganicJar) A field of genetically modified (GM) potatoes – created to be resistant to pests – was planted in a Yorkshire field earlier this year by Leeds University scientists.
Last year, environmental activists ripped up a field of identical plants on the same farm, causing more than US $40,000 damage and wasting months of research work. The 400 potato plants are resistant to nematode worms, which cost British farmers around $107 million a year. GM scientists say the new strain could lead to a cut in chemical pesticide use.
The crop is growing next to plants that will be destroyed once the experiment is complete; the field will then be left fallow to reduce the risk of cross-pollination.
To reduce the risk of vandalism, scientists have surrounded the new experimental field with fencing and CCTV cameras to protect against vandals.
GM crops have been grown near a farm in Yorkshire amid a storm of controversy, which also followed a similar trial on a farm near Cambridgeshire last year. Although details of the trial were published on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) website, locals were not told that the crop had been replanted.
Defra said its permission for the trial, granted for three years, remained valid and that the potatoes can be replanted without further notice. It also said the potatoes would not be used for human or animal consumption and that they would be grown in a ‘safe environment’ with no risk of contamination. Supporters of the technology say it will allow plants to be grown in arid andsalty places where ordinary crops fail — and could prevent a worldwide food shortage in years to come.
However, environmental activists warned that neighbouring farms could be put at risk from the GM experiment. Clare Oxborrow, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Defra clearly does not want people to known it is going on this year. This worries us because farmers, gardeners and people living nearby should know about it because of the risk of contaminating other plants. They are trying to slip it under the radar.”
Defra said published details and map references of all GM experiments on its website and denied that it tried to keep people in the dark.
Vandals and eco-campaigners have destroyed almost all of the 54 attempts to grow experimental GM plants outdoors in the UK in the last five years. A GM trial in Cambridgeshire was abandoned last year when trees were ripped up.
Last year Prof Howard Atkinson, who is leading the Leeds experiment, called for details of small-scale GM trials to be kept secret from the public, claiming it cost around $165,000 to install security fences and guards at a GM field trial.
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