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2-Plants: Friends of the Earth UK comments on GMO research report

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SOURCE: Friends of the Earth, UK, Press Release
DATE:   Jan 02, 2003

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Advice issued by the Government's main GM scientific advisory committee is 
in direct conflict with the findings of a major government-commissioned 
report on GM oilseed rape pollination, Friends of the Earth said today.

The report [1] on GM cross pollination of oilseed rape crops and wild 
plants was published in full this week, after a summary was posted on 
DEFRA's website on Christmas Eve. Its findings put the early 
commercialisation of GM oilseed rape in question, revealing significant 
contamination. But the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment 
(ACRE)'s advice, also published on Christmas Eve, played down the 
significance of the findings, saying contamination was expected.

The report concludes: "if transgenic oilseed rape is grown on a large scale 
in the UK, then gene flow will occur between fields, farms and across 
landscapes" [2].

It also highlights the difficulties in gathering information on the likely 
extent of contamination if GM oilseed rape is grown commercially in this 
country and calls for further research: "Gene flow at this level should be 
investigated on a landscape scale using larger numbers of transgenic pollen 
sources, and examining different genotypes (both of the transgenic plants 
and conventional varieties), the extent of pollen flow at further distances 
from sources, a range of environmental conditions, geographical location 
and patterns of cropping of GM and non-GM crops. It is only when these 
studies have been concluded under a range of UK conditions that farmers and 
seed producers will be able to accurately predict out crossing levels and 
develop appropriate strategies for managing it" [3].

In contrast, ACRE's advice concludes: "ACRE considered the results of the 
monitoring carefully. ACRE's risk assessment of GM oil seed rape has always 
assumed some gene-flow will occur and that this does not in itself 
constitute a risk to human health or the environment. It was concluded that 
the extent of gene flow observed in the monitoring between GM oilseed rape 
and adjacent crops, feral oilseed rape and wild relatives was entirely 
within expectations. The persistence of GM volunteers and feral oil seed 
rape plants were also entirely within expectations.

ACRE members were content that the results of the monitoring were 
consistent with the existing risk assessment and no further action was 

The consultants report also reveals the extent to which seed contamination 
has occurred: "Tests of certified seed of a particular variety imported 
from North America since 1996, conducted by NIAB detected GM contamination 
in c 40% of samples ranging from 0.05% to 0.5%" [5].

Current EU proposals for oilseed rape seed purity would set a maximum 
contamination rate of 0.3%.

Other key information emerging from the final report includes: Seed 
spillages and failure to clean combine harvesters are likely to be a 
significant source of GM contamination. One volunteer GM plant per square 
metre in a field of oilseed would produce contamination rates of between 
0.6% and 1.5% depending on variety. The discovery of weedy population of 
wild turnip co-existing and hybridising with oilseed rape in England. One 
plant sampled had 81 GM seeds out of 167 (48.5%). 0.5% contamination rates 
in crops at distances up to 200m. 3.2% contamination rates at 105m in some 
oilseed rape varieties [5]. GM oilseed rape volunteers (weeds in following 
crops) survived for at least four years (up until the research was 
terminated in 2000). Wild oilseed rape close by crop fields was also 

The report recommends more research into the hybridisation of oilseed rape 
with wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) and wild turnip (Brassica rapus).

The full report does not provide metrological data for any of the study 
sites making it impossible to judge whether the reported results could be 
considered the "worst case". Contamination of crop plants was only 
monitored and found up to 250 metres from the GM crops and no further. 
Current separation distances for GM oilseed rape are a maximum of 200 
metres [6].

Commenting, Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley of Friends said: 
"ACRE seems to have missed the main conclusions of the report. In fact they 
appear to be more interested in defending their earlier advice than 
listening to the science. Such complacency is completely unacceptable. The 
report shows there are still big holes in the science of cross pollination, 
and that more research is needed before GM crops can be given the go-ahead.

"The Government must resist the pressure from the biotech industry to 
approve GM oilseed rape for commercial growing in the next 18 months and 
consider the full facts. Proving the safety of GM is going to be risky and 
costly. Surely the only sensible course is to abandon GM and instead help 
British farmers get off the agro-chemical treadmill by investing in 
sustainable farming." Ends

[1] Monitoring large Scale Releases of Genetically Modified Crops (EPG 1/5/
84) Incorporating Report on Project 1/5/30: Monitoring Releases of 
Genetically Modified Plants By Carol Norris and Jeremy Sweet National 
Institute Agricultural Botany, Cambridge
[2]Section 11.2 General Discussion page 113.
[4]ACRE advice
[5]As 2 above.
[6]Current oilseed rape separation distances agreed between the Government 
and SCIMAC (the biotech industry body responsible for drawing up of the 
proposals for separation distances) Certified seed crops 200metres 
Registered organic 200metres Conventional varieties and restored hybrids 
50metres Varietal associations and partially restored hybrids 100metres 
(Joint press release from DETR and MAFF (46/01) 6 February 2001). Varietal 
association varieties of oilseed rape have up to 80% of plants which do not 
produce their own pollen and are therefore more susceptible to cross 
pollination. Such varieties are sold commercially in the UK, eg Gemini and 

Contact details:
Friends of the Earth 26-28 Underwood St.
Tel: 020 7490 1555
Fax: 020 7490 0881


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