GM trials delayed as UK Government is taken to court

Court action by environmental group, Friends of the Earth (FoE), may result in a year-long delay of the UK government's Farm Scale GM trails. FoE alleges that the Government has "bent its own rules" with the expansion of the trials.

The Government acknowledged that it has delayed sowing seeds for this year’s trial while it awaits a response to its request for a speedy decision from the Court Justice. The Court Justice must decide whether to grant FoE a judicial review of the Government’s GM Farm Scale Trials for 1999/2000. If a review is granted the Government has requested that it take place prior to 25 September. That is the final day that seeds can be sown for this year’s trials.

“We have no plans to delay the trials this year,” a UK Government GM unit spokesperson told edie. “We’re expecting the seeds to be sown before 25 September.” The trial permit originally allowed for sowing between 26 August and 25 September. FoE cites the delay as an indication of the strength of its case against the Government.

The FoE case alleges that permission given to the biotechnology firm AgrEvo by the UK government was unlawful because it allowed a:

  • change to the GM crop being tested (a change from spring oilseed rape to winter oilseed rape) without AgrEvo having to submit a new application
  • quadrupling in the amount of land under GM farm scale trials from 1,250ha to 5,000ha
  • an extension of GM crop trial lengths from 6 months to 12.

FoE believes that the UK government is allowing a “creeping commercialisation” of GM crops.

Correspondence from AgrEvo to the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) on 7 May has been obtained and released by FoE.

“As you will be aware we need a Deliberate Release consent to enable the Farm Scale Trials in winter oilseed rape to take place,” wrote AgrEvo. “I have discussed the option of submitting a completely new application … but a more efficient route would appear to be a small variation to add the new sowing dates to … the current consent … The current consent refers to approximately 25 sites per year for farm scale trials. In line with proposals for managed development of GM crops we wish to inform you that it is likely to increase to up to 50 sites per crop per year from 2000 onwards.”

In related news, Charles Kennedy, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats has stated his opposition to this year’s trials and his support for a five-year freeze on the commercial development of GM crops.

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