15 January 2003
GM BEET RESEARCH ANSWERS VERY FEW QUESTIONS
"This is the first time research has shown that GM herbicide-tolerant crops can be managed for environmental benefit," said John Pidgeon
How strange. They've been telling us this for the last 6 years and not least at Brooms Barn where they have leant over backwards to make Monsanto's case - right down to pre-publication press tours of theie Monsanto research.
GM BEET RESEARCH ANSWERS VERY FEW QUESTIONS
Embargo: 00:01 15th January 2002
New research on GM sugar beet, partly funded by Monsanto, and published today  will provide the Government with little new information on which to base crucial decisions on the commercialisation of GM crops, says Friends of the Earth.
The research, carried out in 1999 and 2000 at Brooms Barn Research Station in Hertfordshire, compared non-GM weed management with a new technique for GM-sugar beet weed management which involved only spraying the rows of plants and leaving the gap between rows unsprayed. The weeds between the rows were sprayed later in the summer. The research team reported that GM sugar beet yield was potentially higher than under the conventional system and potentially produced more weeds, which they claim are beneficial to wildlife.
The research did not cover other key objections to GM sugar beet, including gene transfer to seed crops and weed beet and animal feed safety.
But Friends of the Earth has also identified a number of key weaknesses in the study:
The GM sugar beet was harvested long before  conventional crops because of rules to prevent GM contamination laid down by British Sugar .
The late-sprayed weeds were sprayed at a time when birds were likely to still be nesting in the fields. Sugar beet is an important source of weed seed for some birds in the autumn and winter months Ë† but the research did not cover this period.
The researchers failed to include any data on the impact on birds, or relating the research to their breeding behaviour.
The study found no significant impacts on a the limited range of invertebrates studied (beetles and spiders)
The study claims erroneously that conventional sugar beet is relatively weed-free when weedy fields are not uncommon and are important sources of winter food for birds.
The research was limited to only one GM herbicide (Monsanto”šs glyphoste) resistant crop and wrongly suggests that the research could be applied to other GM crops and to Bayer”šs glufosinate ammonium .
The report fails to discuss how new GM management techniques will be used by farmers, especially those faced with more aggressive arable weeds such as couch, grass, black grass and cleevers. The methodology probably would not be relevant to a commercial environment.
Friends of the Earth Real Food and Farming campaigner Pete Riley said:
"This research tells us nothing about the impact of GM sugar beet on farmland birds, but shows that Monsanto is desperate to find a case for promoting GM seed. If it still has to sponsor research on how to manage their GM crops, it looks as though the public money spent on the farm scale trials has been wasted.
"S ugar beet farmers were sold the idea of GM crops in the mid 1990s on the basis that they were good for weed control and to produce clean ground. This research does not support that. And the techniques proposed are likely to be more costly and more trouble for farmers . Even if there was a market for GM sugar beet, it is hard to see what the appeal would be for the majority of farmers ."
1. Pidgeon JD, 2002, A novel approach to the use of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops for environmental benefit . Published on 15th January in the Royal SocietyÅ’s Proceedings B, 1513, Vol 270.
2. All GM sugar beet trials are terminated before the main sugar beet crop begins to be lifted in the autumn.
3. Experience in the US maize belt has shown that glufosinate ammonium proved an inadequate an effective weed killer in maize and Bayer have introduced a new product Liberty ATZ which is a mixture of glufosinate and atrazine.
This morning's Farming Today on BBC Radio 4 had an item on the Broom's Barn GM sugar beet study. go to the BBC website, and click on the Radio 4 listen again section. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/
Scientists grow 'bird-friendly' GM sugar beet
Tim Radford, science editor
Wednesday January 15, 2003
Researchers experimenting with genetically modified sugar beet have found a way to keep yields high while providing weed cover for nesting skylarks, lapwings, partridges, and other wild birds.
"This is the first time research has shown that GM herbicide-tolerant crops can be managed for environmental benefit," said John Pidgeon, director of the Broom's Barn research station in Suffolk. "The environmental benefits are particularly important for the UK and the rest of Europe, where around 80% of the land is farmed."
The technique, outlined today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, uses sugar beet modified to give a resistance gene to the herbicide glyphosate. The GM beet was developed by the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which also for a while held the patent on glyphosate, and the trials were funded by Monsanto, partly, according to Dr Pidgeon, because no one else would produce the money.
The standard approach with herbicide-tolerant crops is to spray early, and spray regularly: if weeds are hit early, they never develop, and the crop flourishes in an otherwise sterile field. But sugar beet is planted in rows 50cm (20in) apart, and the team at Broom's Barn looked for a way to allow weeds, and therefore insects, to survive between the rows.
They adjusted the nozzles on herbicide spreaders so that the rows of emerging beet were sprayed but not the intervening spaces, allowing weeds to grow in them. They then sprayed these weeds later in the summer with glyphosate, the only herbicide powerful enough to kill adult weeds. They sampled the population levels of two kinds of insect, and spiders, and found that in the gaps there was a sevenfold increase over those found in regular spraying. The technique could work with maize or any crop sown in rows.
Beetles provide food for nesting birds; weeds provide seeds and cover; and even dying weeds attract scavenger insects that feed birds. Although the experimental plots were small, the researchers were surprised to find three bird species had nested and raised broods in the the weeds between the beet: skylark, red partridge, and lapwing. All three are threatened by conventional farming practices.
"I have been working with sugar beet for 19 years now, and in all that time I have never found a nesting skylark," said Alan Dewar, one of the team.
The research is not likely to lead immediately to the adoption of GM beet. The yield matches conventional cropping, but farmers might need some other incentive to encourage weeds in up to 800,000 hectares (2m acres) of their fields. And one skylark does not make a species revival.
"It's pretty easy to count the numbers of species in a field," said Sandy Knapp, a botanist at the Natural History Museum. "But it's far more important for the ecosystem to be self-sustaining. That is a lot harder to measure."
But Stephen Smith of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council said: "Here is a sound piece of science that suggests that GM technology could be one of the tools to allow farming to move in the direction society wishes."
GM crops 'are helping to save the skylark'
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
Creative use of genetically-modified crops could bring back declining farmland birds such as the skylark, according to a study to be used in a Government assessment of whether to give the go-ahead to GM crops.
A three-year study of GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beet plots found that there was more food for birds in the GM plots, together with a saving in labour for the farmer, because weeds could be left unsprayed until after the birds' breeding season. Scientists from the Broom's Barn research station, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, say that it should now be possible to transform fields of crops planted in rows from ecological deserts into habitats and feeding grounds for lapwing, grey partridge and skylark.
The results, produced by part of Rothamsted Research - formerly the Institute of Arable Crops Research - were surprising even to the authors of the paper, to be published today in the Royal Society's journal Proceedings B.
Dr Alan Dewar, one of the authors, said: "I've been an entomologist working in sugar beet for 19 years and I've spent a lot of time crawling around and looking at pests. It wasn't until we started manipulating and managing weeds within these GM experiments that I found a skylark's nest for the first time."
Conventional sugar beet crops are arguably the most intensively grown crops in Britain in terms of herbicide and may also be in terms of insecticide and fertiliser.
They generally receive four applications of herbicide, from April onwards into the summer, to suppress weeds, leaving nothing in the field but the crop.
By narrowing the settings on a sprayer and selectively spraying just the rows around young beet with glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup, the experiment left weeds such as fat hen still alive within the 50 cm rows of beet. Conventional herbicides only work on small weeds and so do mechanical systems of weeding so the weeds, host plants for insects, would never have been allowed to develop.