Security becomes main cost in UK GMO crop trials
LONDON (Reuters) - Security has become by far the largest cost for field trials of genetically modified crops in Britain as researchers seek to protect sites against vandalism, a British scientist said on Monday.
Howard Atkinson of Leeds University, who has been running a field trial on GMO potatoes, said the trial itself cost 25,000 pounds but there was a "six figure" bill for security around it.
Atkinson is due to meet with Phil Woolas, the UK minister responsible for GMO crops, in early September. He said he would ask Woolas for either the government to no longer give the location of small-scale trials or pay a share of security costs.
He told reporters at a media briefing that it was difficult for universities to justify such a large security cost "to protect against zealots."
There has been significant opposition to genetically modified crops in Britain with concerns centered on both food safety and possible environmental impacts and many trials have been vandalized by activists.
GMO crops are, however, grown widely in both North and South America.
The UK government does not publish the exact site of a GMO field trial but provides sufficient information for opponents to locate them.
Jim Dunwell of Reading University said there has been a sharp drop in the number of GMO crop trials in Britain over the last few years with just one application for this year, down from about 20 to 30 a year at one stage.
He said, in contrast, there were about 1,000 trials a year in the United States.
Wayne Powell, director of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, said as a result of vandalism to a GMO field trial last year "we now have 24-hour security, we have fences around materials."
The field trials at Leeds University are for GMO potatoes which are more resistant to nematode worms while the NIAB trials are for potatoes resistant to blight.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Michael Roddy)