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U.K. Government Moves to Hide GM Crop Trials From Public

Genetically modified crops may be grown in hidden locations in Britain amid fears that anti-GM campaigners are winning the battle over the controversial technology, the Guardian has learned.

Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed they are looking at a range of options to clamp down on vandalism to GM crop trials, after intense lobbying by big crop biotech companies. The firms have warned that trials of GM crops are becoming too expensive to conduct in Britain because of the additional costs of protecting fields from activists.

This week, a report from the GM industry claimed that worldwide agricultural use of genetically modified crops had increased 70-fold in the last 10 years to 114m hectares in 2007.

But fears of vandalism have forced many companies to shift their crop trials abroad. Last year, only one trial went ahead in Britain, a blight-resistant GM potato developed by the German company BASF. Two activists were arrested for damage to the trial site, which was later almost completely destroyed in a night raid.

BASF plans to repeat the trial this year, at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridgeshire. Another trial is planned by scientists at Leeds University.

A group representing the major biotech companies has asked the government to oversee specific changes to the GM trial process that would make fields of crops harder for activists to locate. Under existing laws, full details of every GM crop trial must be disclosed in advance on a government website, with a six-figure grid reference identifying the precise location of the field.

The group has asked Defra to keep details of locations on a register, which would only be shared with people who apply and who can prove they have good reason to know. Another option is to release only a four-figure reference for the trial site.

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