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2-Plants: UK study revealed 4 km pollen flow from GE rape seed

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TITLE:  Bees 'spread genes from GM crops'
SOURCE: The Times, UK, by Nick Nuttall
DATE:   April 15, 1999

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Bees 'spread genes from GM crops'
Ministers to review guidelines as new study suggests buffer zones may be futile, writes Nick Nuttall

(London) April 15, 1999 - Guidelines on the isolation of genetically modified crops are to be reviewed by the Government, after a study found that bees could carry pollen four kilometres from test sites. Farm scale trials to assess the impact of the crops have begun with "buffer" zones between them and the countryside of just 50 metres. Government rules on commercial plantings of gene altered crops suggest buffers of 200 metres. But the new findings, published yesterday, indicate that a revised strategy may be needed to allay public concern. The 4 km distance is much further than previously supposed.

The researchers claim that the spread of so-called "transgenes" from farm to farm will be widespread should commercial plantings go ahead. The findings have come from a team at the government-funded Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee. Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment, admitted that bees could take pollen large distances. In a House of Commons written reply yesterday, he said that despite precautions "it has to be recognised that bee activity may in some cases involve the dissemination of GM pollen beyond the isolation distances traditionally used". A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said that studies were under way into the consequences of bees transporting pollen over large distances. The isolation guidelines would be reviewed by the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment in the wake of these studies. John Crawford, one of the research team, admitted that it had been surprised by the findings. The distance over which oilseed rape!
 pollen travelled had been unknown and of little consequence. But concern over the impact of gene altered crops was concentrating scientific minds.

"We were getting cross-pollination over large distances. There is no doubt that pollen from genetically modified crops will get out," Dr Crawford said. The scientists planted male-sterile oilseed rape plants at 52 sites. They were positioned between zero and 4,000 metres from a 70sq km field in which oilseed rape was being grown. Using male-sterile plants meant that seeds produced by the plants were as a result of cross-pollination from the field rather than self-pollination. The scientists found that pollination occurred at all the test sites. Nearly 90 per cent of flower buds were pollinated one metre from the field. But even at 4,000 metres away, 5 per cent of flower buds on the test plants had been pollinated. The team says in its paper to a conference at Keele University: "The results suggest that the farm-to-farm spread of oilseed rape transgenes will be widespread." Dr Crawford said bees could be the key to pollination at huge distances. "Bees carry a lot of pollen conc!
entrated on their bodies. So the amount of pollen getting to a plant could be quite significant," he said.

They will also alarm organic farmers who are concerned that gene modifed crops will cross-pollinate with plants such as sweetcorn, nullifying their organic status. Last July a West Country organic farmer lost a case in the High Court to have trials of gene altered crops near his farm scrapped. A judge supported the Government's position that the risks of cross pollination was "likely to be zero". Adrian Beeb of Friends of the Earth said: "This research throws current thinking out of the window. It confirms that pollen from these mutant crops will be a problem for most farmers." He urged the Government to back calls by bodies including English Nature who have demanded a three to five-year moratorium on commercial plantings of gene modified organisms.


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