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 trusts 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 trusts 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 trusts decision is likely to reopen the debate. The trusts 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, Britains 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 trusts 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.

    Additional reporting: Zoe