OFFICIALS last night attempted to allay fears over plans to grow genetically modified crops in the North-East.

Within the next few weeks, modified oil seed rape is to be planted at a farm near Oakenshaw, Willington, County Durham, as Aventis CropScience UK carries out a three-year research programme.

Aventis said there was no need for people to be concerned.

A spokesman said: "Oil seed rape can only cross-pollinate with oil seed rape, so cross-pollination isn't an issue.

"The GM part of the field has to be a certain distance away from other neighbouring crops, and the distances have been approved by the Government as to create minimal chances of cross-pollination."

But the news has provoked an outcry from environmentalists.

Prospective parliamentary Green Party candidate Carl Bennett said he was writing to the farmer whose land will be used in the trials, to plead with him to reconsider.

"We are always close to mass destruction. How much further do we dare push it to its limits, when we are already on the brink?

"We now have a nuclear bomb in our backyards in the guise of GM in Wear Valley. Its potential for mass destruction is too abhorrent to contemplate."

Mr Bennett said the herbicide- resistant crop could cross-pollinate with surrounding plants and alter the surrounding habitat.

Farmer John Layfield, whose land borders the trial field, is also worried. He grows oil seed rape on his land.

"As far as we can see we don't have any say in it," he said.

"We have livestock and there's enough worries making sure we don't get foot-and-mouth outbreaks without worrying about GM crops.

"We're concerned they will cross-pollinate with our crops and in the future we could be at a disadvantage because our crops have been grown near GM crops."

Trials will also take place at a farm in Hutton Magna, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, where last year five activists destroyed £2,000 worth of trial crops.