4.00pm - By GEOFFREY LEAN
Alarming new results from official British trials of GM crops are severely jeopardising plans for growing them commercially.
The findings - in a new government report - show, for the first time in Britain, that genes from GM crops are interbreeding on a large scale with conventional ones, and with weeds.
The study is so devastating to the Government's case for GM crops that ministers sought to bury it by publishing the first information on it on the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website on Christmas Eve. That is the one day in the year when no newspapers are being prepared. Even then it only produced a heavily edited summary of the main report. Unusually the full report, which will contain much more devastating detail, was withheld from publication on the website.
The department said that it was available on request, but when The Independent on Sunday tried to ask for it last week, the department said that no one was available to provide it.
The report, the result of six years of monitoring of GM crops in Britain, is politically explosive and gives the first results from the official farm-scale trials. The Government has repeatedly said the results would settle the question on whether GM crops endangered the environment. But it has been playing down their significance in recent weeks.
The trials, set up in the face of public hostility to the crops, were not designed to look at the possibility of genes from GM crops contaminating nearby plants, but at the effects of different uses of pesticides on GM and non-GM plants. But, following criticism, studies of this "gene flow" were added later.
The studies, carried out between 1994 and 2000 by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, shows that genes from GM oil seed rape, engineered to be resistant to herbicides, contaminated conventional crops. And GM oil seed rape that had escaped from a crop harvested in 1996, persisted for at least four years. The report also shows that the GM crop interbred with a weed, wild turnip, giving it resistance to herbicides and thus raising the prospect of the development of super weeds.
Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said the results showed that if GM crops became widespread, almost all similar crops would become contaminated, threatening organic agriculture.
"It is not surprising the Government has tried to cover this up. It shows we need to know a great deal more about these issues before we contemplate growing GM crops commercially."