GM crops worse for environment - more testing on GM maize "might need to be done", say researchers
"The researchers defended their results on maize, despite the impending withdrawal of the atrazine against which the GM herbicides were compared. But they acknowledged that results might need to be "recalibrated" and that extra field research might need to be done to gather data on whatever regime replaces atrazine in conventional maize.
"The results will be unwelcome for the biotechnology industry." (item 1)
"These trials were a political fudge that did not begin to address the possible catastrophic effects that GM could bring about. But even within their limited scope they clearly show that the alleged benefits of GM do not exist." (item 3)
1.GM crops can be worse for environment - New Scientist
2.GM test damage rules out blanket approval - Scotsman
3.Green groups call for GM ban - Telegraph
UK gene crop test results fuel demands for ban
Trials show GM crops harm environment
GM trials setback
GM crops 'bad for wildlife'
Campaigners Urge End to GM Crop Use
The Scotsman, UK
1.GM crops can be worse for environment
Andy Coghlan, New Scientist, 16 October 2003
The results of the world's largest ever trial of GM crops show that two out of the three tested - oilseed rape and sugar beet - had a worse impact on farmland wildlife than conventional crops.
The researchers stress that results measured the impact on wildlife of the herbicide regimes used - either glyphosate or glufosinate ammonium - not of the crops themselves, which are genetically engineered to be herbicide-resistant.
"Critically, all our results are explained by the application and timing of different herbicides, not by virtue of the plants being GM or not," said Les Firbank, coordinator of the UK-based trials, at the launch of the results in London on Thursday.
But opponents of GM crops are delighted by the findings, which now go to the UK government and its official advisers on GM crops for appraisal. The negative environmental findings could give the British government acceptable grounds under world trade rules to ban the commercialisation of the two crops.
The third GM crop tested, maize, was better for wildlife than its conventional counterpart. But opponents say this result has been invalidated by the impending European ban on atrazine, the weedkiller used on the conventional maize against which the GM maize was judged.
Crop yields were not considered in the trials. The organisers say this and many other factors influence the effect of farming on wildlife. "It's the whole package of how the countryside is managed," says Firbank.
Chris Pollock, chairman of the scientific steering committee which oversaw the £6-million trials, added: "We hope our results feed into the wider debate about GM in Britain, and into the debate about what kind of landscape we need."
The organisers believe the four-year "farm scale evaluations" on 280 fields throughout Britain have been a resounding success. "It's the first time a novel agricultural technology has been trialled extensively before it's been introduced, rather than after," said Pollock.
For each crop, individual fields were divided into two with the GM crop grown in one half and the conventional in the other. To gauge the effect on wildlife, scientists monitored weeds and weed seeds, and collected beetles and other insects in traps.
Oilseed rape: Weeds were 1.7 times as plentiful in the conventional plots and produced five times as many seeds. The store of these seeds left in the ground was doubled after conventional treatment, providing a vital food resource for the birds such as skylarks that have declined dramatically since the start of modern farming 60 years ago. A quarter fewer butterflies were recorded around the GM plots.
Sugar beet: About 1.3 times as many weeds grew in conventional plots, and treble the number of seeds. Again, there was an increase in the seeds left in soil. There were 40 per cent fewer butterflies.
Maize: The situation was totally reversed. There were three times as many weeds in the GM plots, and 2.3 times as much seed produced. But puzzlingly, this did not increase the amount of seed left in the soil.
Geoff Squire, a trials coordinator from the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Invergowrie, Dundee, said that if the crops had been grown for the past 10 years, the oilseed rape and the sugar beet would have triggered further declines in wildlife, but the maize would have increased biodiversity on farms.
Opponents of GM crops were delighted with the results. "Our main reaction is that a set of trials designed to show GM in a good light have had such a dramatic negative impact," said Charlie Kronick of Greenpeace.
However, Greenpeace and others have always denounced the trials as a fix, and activists attempted to sabotage them by physically pulling up the crops. Earlier in 2003, Friends of the Earth said that the results would be statistically flawed.
The researchers defended their results on maize, despite the impending withdrawal of the atrazine against which the GM herbicides were compared. But they acknowledged that results might need to be "recalibrated" and that extra field research might need to be done to gather data on whatever regime replaces atrazine in conventional maize.
The results will be unwelcome for the biotechnology industry. And on the eve of the results' release, Monsanto, the world's largest producer of GM crops, announced the closure of its European cereal seed business. But the company says it remains firmly committed to developing GM crops.
2.GM test damage rules out blanket approval
BILL JACOBS WESTMINSTER EDITOR
The Scotsman, 16 October 2003
THE Government today made clear there would be no blanket approval for growing genetically modified crops in the UK after a scientific study showed that two out of three trials damaged the environment.
The investigation revealed that, while the use of GM herbicide-tolerant maize was better for many groups of wildlife than the conventional plant, it was the reverse for beet and spring rape.
The study warned that the results for the latter two crops could mean that large-scale growing might disadvantage wildlife, particularly farmland birds, bees, butterflies and the flowers and weeds on which they feed.
Dr Les Fairbank, the chief advisor to the GM Crop Farm Scale Evaluation, warned that any approvals for GM crops - branded by opponents as "Frankenstein Food" - "must be looked at on a case-by-case basis".
And today Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs at Westminster, agreed stating that, while no decision had been taken on whether to allow GM crops to be grown, there would be no blanket approval for them.
She said: "The Government commissioned this research to address a specific gap in our knowledge.
"The trials demonstrate the precautionary approach which the Government has taken on GM crops from the start. The results will be considered as part of the comprehensive risk assessment undertaken for every GM crop.
"We persisted with this research despite the activities of some anti-GM campaigners, including serious attempts to destroy the trial sites."
She added: "I shall reflect carefully on these results and the outcome of the public debate. I have said consistently that the Government is neither pro nor anti-GM crops - our overriding concern is to protect human health and the environment and to ensure genuine consumer choice."
As well as the British government, the European Union is considering whether to change its current position whereby each crop has to be decided on by the relevant member state on case-by-case evidence.
Mrs Beckett will now pass the results of the study on to the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE), which will advise ministers on whether to allow any of the three crops to be grown commercially.
There are currently no GM crops being commercially cultivated in the UK and no GM crops can be sown until next spring at the earliest.
Mrs Beckett expects to receive ACRE's advice in December or early January and will consider it in tandem with the results of the public debate on the issue which the Government has already held.
The investigation, which involved the Scottish Crop Research Institute and also reported to the Scottish Executive, said that in the case of GM herbicide-tolerant beet and spring rape it was clear that some insect groups such as bees and butterflies did better around conventional rather than GM crops. This was because there were fewer weeds and weed seed in the GM parts of the field.
However, in the case of GM maize, there were more weeds, flowers, butterflies, bees and insects.
The immediate reaction from campaigners today was that the study was inconclusive.
The report also made clear that the level of wildlife around such crops depended very much on the herbicide management regime that was used. In all cases, it was different for GM than conventional crops.
But the report warns clearly that "growing GM beet and spring rape on a large scale may disadvantage wildlife, particularly farmland birds, bees and butterflies".
Green groups call for GM ban
Daily Telegraph, 16/10/2003
Environmental campaigners have called for a ban on GM crops after a new report found that some types are worse for wildlife than conventional varieties.
The Government-backed study found that growing GM herbicide-tolerant beet and spring rape is worse for wildlife than the conventional varieties. However the survey also found that herbicide-tolerant GM maize is better for many groups of wildlife than conventional maize.
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said failing to act could lead to birds such as the skylark becoming extinct in Britain. He said: "The Government has got no alternative but to stand by its pledge to ban GM crops in the UK."
Stephen Tindale, Greenpeace executive director, said: "These trials were a political fudge that did not begin to address the possible catastrophic effects that GM could bring about. But even within their limited scope they clearly show that the alleged benefits of GM do not exist."
Scientists unveiling the findings of the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) at the Science Centre in London said some insects such as bees in beet crops and butterflies in beet and spring rape were recorded more often in and around the conventional crops because there were more weeds to provide food and cover.
There were also more weed seeds in conventional beet and spring rape crops than in their GM counterparts. These seeds are important in the diet of some animals and birds.
The researchers said the differences they found arose because the GM crops gave farmers taking part in the trial new options for weed control. They used different herbicides and applied them differently.