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9-Misc: National Trust UK bans GM crops on 2,000 farms

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TITLE:  National Trust bans GM crops on 2,000 farms
SOURCE: London Times, UK, by Jonathan Leake, additional reporting by Zoe
DATE:   May 11, 2003

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National Trust bans GM crops on 2,000 farms

THE National Trust is to ban its 2,000 tenant farmers from growing
genetically modified (GM) crops on its land. The decision will be a
serious blow to the GM lobby.

With 3m members representing much of middle England, the trust's move
will worry ministers who must soon decide whether to allow the planting
of commercial GM crops.

The president of the trust is the Prince of Wales, who has spoken against
GM. Although he has no formal decision- making role in the trust, he has
met senior staff several times in the past two months to discuss issues
including GM.

Tony Burton, the trust's director of policy and strategy, said that it
was worried about the environmental safety of GM. Government-sponsored
research would not resolve any doubts, he said. "The field trials are
very limited in their scope. We believe the government has a long way to
go to demonstrate the safety of GM crops."

"We are taking a precautionary approach. We do not want GM crops grown on
our land unless and until all the questions are fully answered."

The announcement comes at a crucial time. Next month the government will
launch a national public debate on GM. Six regional conferences will be
followed in the autumn by the publication of three scientific papers
detailing the results of farm-scale trials.

Whitehall insiders and ministers have been suggesting that the public has
lost interest in GM issues, but the trust?s decision is likely to reopen
the debate. The trust's fears include:
- The risk that foreign genes in crops could spread uncontrollably into
other species.
- Herbicide-resistant crops would allow farmers to purge fields of weeds
and insects that are vital for wildlife.
- Crops that create pesticides could kill bees and butterflies.

The debate has pitched some of the most powerful institutions in the land
against one another. The Royal Society, Britain's national academy of
science, is reviewing the first batch of scientific papers based on the
field trials for publication in August and appears to favour GM.

The trust's decision is likely to anger some of its tenants. Tony
Farthing from Manor Farm, a 1,100 acre arable and dairy farm in
Wiltshire, accused it of acting like a "nanny state".

He said: "I would like to keep my options open. GM crops have done
wonderful things in other countries."