GM WATCH comment: There's good reason for scepticism about the latest claims out of Broom's Barn - a research centre with a long history of close collaboration with the biotech industry that has included Monsanto press tours of ongoing research, plus a consistent pattern of hyping trial "results" to the media - even pre-publication.
In fact, Broom's Barn researchers have been popping up in the farming press baselessly claiming their research shows GM sugar beet is environmentally friendly since as long ago as 1998!!
And although the latest Broom's Barn study reported below is written up as "new research", it's actually a reworking of data thrown up by the earlier Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) that found problems with GM sugar beet.
The new claim out of Broom's Barn is that if 2 rows of sugar beet out of every 100 are left unsprayed, this will mitigate the adverse effects on wildlife of GM sugar beet found in the FSEs. Quite what the incentive is for farmers attracted to a "weed free" technology to bother to leave some rows unsprayed, and then to leave the resulting weeds to set seed, is not explained.
We're also told, "According to research team leader Dr John Pidgeon the economic benefits for the farming sector are large." This is consistent with previous Broom's Barn claims of major savings for farmers taking up GM sugar beet. However, again there are good grounds for scepticism.
Farmers from the independent farmers' group - FARM - indentified from their experience of beet-growing that the Broom's Barn paper claiming these economic benefits had exaggerated by *as much as 75%* the costs of a conventional herbicide regime. This had the effect of making the GM herbicide regime appear financially attractive. When compared to the real cost, there was little financial benefit from the GM crop and for many farmers with lower weed burdens a financial penalty!
Two unsprayed rows mitigate effect of GMHT sugar beet on bird populations
Farmers Guardian, 20 April 2007
LEAVING two rows of sugar beet in every 100 unsprayed would mitigate any adverse effects of genetically-modified herbicide-tolerant sugar beet on food for farmland birds, according to research conducted at Broom's Barn.
The Government's Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) trials of GM herbicide tolerant sugar beet showed that the technology could potentially have an adverse impact on food for farmland birds if a 'weed-free' management approach was adopted.
However, new research, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, demonstrates that leaving two crop rows in every 100 unsprayed presents a cheap and simple approach to avoiding any adverse impacts on bird populations.
According to research team leader Dr John Pidgeon the economic benefits for the farming sector are large.
'This demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that GMHT beet can be economically and environmentally beneficial. It's a win:win situation for sustainable agriculture,' he said.
Leaving two rows in every 100 unsprayed would result in the same number and spectrum of weeds - including valuable bird feed sources such as fat hen - as were found in the conventional FSE beet crop trials.
Yields from GMHT beet would still be higher than conventional beet even if two per cent of the crop were left unsprayed, added Dr Pidgeon.
'But the wider issue is that such simple ways forward were not found during the unhelpfully polarised GM debate,' he added. 'UK and European agriculture needs economically beneficial change to be introduced with due environmental precaution. We now have the methodologies to achieve this, with transparent, rigorous scrutiny. We need to move forward pragmatically, on the basis of evidence and not remain trapped in irrational thinking that prevents progress'.
The new study, based on data collected during the four-year FSE, follows on from work at Broom's Barn research station (part of Rothamsted Research) in Suffolk that demonstrated that innovative crop management practices deploying GM herbicide tolerant beet had the potential to deliver food for farmland birds in spring or autumn.