Evening News, Friday, August 20, 1999

GOING TO GROUND TO RAISE CONCERN

JUST over a year ago a group of concerned people in the Norwich area got
together to try to find out more about genetic modification.

The Norfolk Genetic Information Network (NGIN pronounced "engine")
began to gather and circulate information about genetic modification.

Their main concern was that little or no information was being given to
the public.

Today, barely a day goes by without a GM story hitting the headlines but
the campaign group is still extremely concerned about what is going on.

NGIN is made up of a wide range of people from the Norwich area, many of
whom are very different from the stereotypical image of "eco-warriors".

Jonathan Matthews, a teacher at a Norwich language school, is the
group's co-ordinator

He explained one of NGIN's main concerns was the lack of public
consultation over the trials.

"The public did not know about the maize trials in Lyng until after they
had been started," he said. "It is insensitive and un-neighbourly not to
take into account the views of people living nearby.

"There are all sorts of implications. There could be an impact on
farmers in the area and on land values."

NGIN's prime concern about having GM crops in an open field is the
possibility of gene escape.

Mr Matthews believes this could happen in a number of ways including
through the soil, through the spread of pollen or through birds eating
seeds and passing them somewhere else where they then grow.

And they say gene escape could have implications for the health of both
humans and wildlife.

"Some of the plants are antibiotic resistant," he explained. "If the
genes escape and get into the soil where e-coli type bacteria is known
to exist you could get an e-coli that is resistant to antibiotics."

There could also be an environmental impact.

"There was evidence of cross pollination between GM oilseed rape and a
type of radish. The result was a plant that was herbicide resistant."

The group believes the GM trials were started far too quickly.

They say more laboratory work should have been carried out before trials
began in open fields.

"GM is very poorly understood and it all started from a limited
knowledge base," said Mr Matthews.

"We feel there are lots of issues which are concerning. What a lot of
people are worried about is the quality of the science.

"For example, before one trial [in fact, all this year's farmscale
trials] was started no record was made of what wildlife was in those
fields. So how on earth do you measure the environmental impact of the
trials."

They also believe the.Department of the Environment is not responding to
the concerns of local people. They say it takes months to get an answer
to a letter and the reply is always a standard one.

So where do the NGIN campaigners stand on the issue of direct action
destroying fields of crops?

"A lot of us feel direct action would not be our choice," said Mr
Matthews. "But many of us are sympathetic because how else is the public
voice heard?"

What do you think about GM crop trials in Norfolk? Send your views to
Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 IRE.
 

INDEX