1.Six impossible things before breakfast
2.'superweed' in field of GM crops

1.Six impossible things before breakfast

Earlier today we put out a press release from a farmers group warning against believing the statements of scientists with a vested interest in GM. The same might go for the comments to be found at the end of this article.

As well as the scientists working for institutes with direct finacial funding from GM corporations, there are the scientists now specialising in GM risk assessments who have a meal-ticket for life just so long as GM crop commercialisation remains on the agenda.

In the article below one of the latter - Dr Les Firbank, co-ordinator of the GM farm-scale evaluations (FSEs) - claims "there are no environmental consequences" from GM crops interbreeding with wild relatives like charlock. The claim is that this is only a weed management problem for farmers.

That could be bad enough for farmers, as American farmers are finding to their cost as weed resistance gallops across a whole series of states. But, bizarrely, Fairbanks claim about "no environmental consequences" is directly contradicted by his own research! The clear conclusion from the FSEs he oversaw is that different forms of weed management have a critically different impact on wildlife.

In other words, weed management can have major environmental consequences. The herbicide regime used with GM oilseed rape, for instance, was shown to have a significantly more damaging effect on wildlife, which was why Bayer were not allowed to proceed with commercialisation. This makes it ludicrous to argue that a problem that forces farmers to intensify their herbicide regimes by the addition of more toxic herbicides is something that has "no environmental consequences"!

In the same article Brian Johnson, a member of the scientific group set up by the government to assess the GM trials, suggests the researchers may have been so incompetent as to have allowed contamination of their experiment and that the charlock, might not have interbred at all with GM oilseed rape plants. Their evidence to the contrary is the result of contamination by GM pollen, he suggests, though he provides no evidence to support the experiment having been contaminated. Similar accusations of contamination and false positives were thrown at the Berkely researchers Quist and Chapela when their findings of GM contamination of native maize in Mexico proved not to the taste of some of their scientific colleagues.

The statements of some GM supporting scientists bring to mind the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland:

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

2.Green body's fury at 'superweed' in field of GM crops
The Scotsman

GENETICALLY modified crops have bred with a native species to create a new herbicide resistant plant which environmentalists yesterday branded Britain's first "superweed".

It was previously thought that the weed, charlock, would not be able to interbreed with genetically altered oilseed rape plants.

But government scientists have found a hybrid plant at the margins of a field where a trial crop had been planted. Tests showed it was unaffected by the same herbicides that the GM crop was designed to resist.

Environmentalists said the discovery of the superweed showed there would be serious consequences if GM crops were allowed to be grown commercially, as farmers would be forced to use even more herbicide to stop charlock and other resistant weeds from taking over the field.

The GM rape, which was trialled at several locations around the UK including one site in Aberdeenshire, is supposed to allow farmers to use a "kill all" herbicide that would get rid of every weed in a field - including charlock - but leave the crop unaffected.

But a report by scientists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology confirmed a hybrid plant had been discovered at one of the trial sites in England.

"In the year after the trial, fields [were] revisited and wild relatives growing in or around the subsequent crop were tested by herbicide application," it said

"A single plant of sinapis arvensis (charlock) showed no reaction to the application and a leaf of this plant was taken for PCR (genetic) analysis. The gene construct was found to be present." Two other plants, wild turnips, were also found to be herbicide resistant.

A reviewer's comment attached to the front of the report said the consequences were "presumed" to be negligible. But it added: "Nevertheless, this unusual occurrence merits further study in order to adequately assess any potential risk of gene transfer."

Environmental groups warned of the dangers of allowing GM crops to be planted on a large scale. There are currently no commercial GM crop farms in Britain and interest has waned because of public opposition

Emily Diamand, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, said: "The government's trials have already shown that growing GM crops can harm wildlife. Now we're seeing the real possibility of GM superweeds being created, with serious consequences for farmers and the environment.

"The government must stop acting as cheerleader for GM crops and start paying attention to its own research, and above all, to the British public

However, Dr Les Firbank, co-ordinator of the farm-scale evaluations of GM crops at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said the impact of the GM resistant weed would be "pretty much non-existent".

"It's recognised that gene flow from GM crops to wild relatives is a potential problem, but in this case it happens very, very rarely and there are no environmental consequences," he said.

"Some people would say any gene flow at all is unacceptable. I personally think the risk is low enough to be acceptable."

Follow-up studies failed to find the hybrid, suggesting that the weed had died out.

Brian Johnson, an ecological geneticist and a member of the scientific group set up by the government to assess GM farm trials, said: "I do not consider this to be a superweed. Hybrids really aren't terribly exciting. Most of them are sterile."

He added that the PCR test used was so sensitive it may have picked up pollen from the GM plants on the leaf of the charlock, producing a false positive result. "I'm not totally convinced they found a hybrid."