Buffer zone

The minimum distance between GM crop trials and conventional crops is to be doubled in the UK

The buffer distance between genetically-modified crop trials and conventional crops is to be doubled in the UK, from 50 metres to 100 metres.

The number of GM crop trials is also being doubled, from 48 to 96. New fields of maize, oilseed rape and beet genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides will be sown at sites throughout the country this spring.

Agriculture minister Baroness Hayman said: "The purpose of the [increased] separation distances is to help ensure that any possible cross-pollination with nearby crops is minimised."

But the wider buffer zones are still "pathetically inadequate", according to Friends of the Earth. GM pollen has been found four kilometres away from a trial site, says Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth.

"The livelihoods of conventional and organic farmers and beekeepers around the country who wish to produce GM-free food are now at risk," he says.

Conservative agriculture spokesman Tim Yeo agrees that the new buffer zones are "inadequate".

Last June, UK environment minister Michael Meacher accepted that contamination could occur no matter what the distance between GM and non-GM crops. The task was to "absolutely minimise" that risk, he said.

The exact locations of the new GM crop sites have yet to be decided.