Hundreds of genetically modified potatoes have been planted behind security fences in Norfolk in a new trial of the controversial science.
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 6:06PM BST 08 Jun 2010
The GM trial was given the go-ahead by ministers as part of a publicly funded project to develop new disease resistant potatoes in Britain.
Scientists insist the new breed of potato could save the farming industry milllions of pounds and reduce the need for chemicals.
Born to be wild againBut campaigners claim the project, that has received more than £1 million of taxpayers money over ten years, is a "waste of money" that could threaten local farmers with contamination.
The row comes amid growing concern that the Government is trying to push GM food onto the nation's dinner plates.
A 'public dialogue' on the controversial technology, set up by quango the Food Standards Agency, is in disarray after the vice chairman resigned in protest at 'GM propaganda' and food campaigners refused to take part.
Caroline Spelman, the new Environment Secretary, has also come out in favour of the technology.
The latest trial at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norfolk was the first GM trial to be given the go-ahead by the new Government and the potatoes have only just been planted.
The 192 potatoes have been implanted with a gene from wild South American potatoes that mean they are resistant to blight, the disease that caused the Irish potato famine.
Professor Jonathan Jones, one of the scientists carrying out the trial, said the new breed could save farmers millions of pounds in chemicals to stop disease every year.
"The green groups have very effectively misrepresented the technology to consumers as a dangerous ineffective waste of money. But it seems to me ridiculous to be against a technology that means farmers will have to spray less chemicals on fields when you are interested in the environment."
He was also unhappy at the £20,000 cost of security, after previous trials in Britain were vandalised by environmentalists.
"At a time when the public purse is stretched, it is ludicrous we have to spend tens of thousands of pounds on security to plant 192 potatoes when there are 100 million hectares of GM crops planted around the world."
The trial in Norfolk is the second GM trial to be allowed to go ahead in Britain this year.
Leeds University has also received around £1 million in public funding to trial potatoes that are resistant to nematodes, also known as the eel worm, that destroys crops in the developing world. The trial is being carried out on a remote maximum security site near Tadcaster.
Kirtana Chandrasekaran, of Friends of the Earth, said the trials could cause problems for neighbouring farms if pollen from the potato plants is spread.
"The Government is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money by forging ahead with unnecessary and unpopular GM crops trials, which threaten local farmers with contamination," she said.
Pete Riley of GM Freeze said the trials will make people even more uneasy about GM following concerns that FSA dialogue is biased.
"I suspect the public remains sceptical and the fact that these trials are in the ground will only increase their concern. So the need for a broader debate than the one proposed by the FSA is more important than ever."