GENET archive


2-Plants: Reactions on latest UK Farm Scale Evaluations results

                                  PART I
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TITLE:  GM food debate to flair as claim 79% of EU opposed
SOURCE: The Examiner, Ireland, by Ray Ryan
DATE:   29 Mar 2005

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GM food debate to flair as claim 79% of EU opposed

THE great public debate about the production of genetically modified
crops and food is set to intensify in Ireland and Britain over the coming

Surveys show the vast majority of European consumers oppose GM foods,
usually on health and environment grounds.

The figures are disputed by the biotech industry which claims a "silent
majority" holds different views.

Supporters of the technology say it will lower costs for farmers,
increase crop yields, decrease the need for chemicals and help to feed
millions in a hungry world.

They insist the crops are safe.

Opponents are concerned about health risks and threats to the environment
and to traditional and organic agriculture, with the risk of cross-
pollination and long-term contamination of soil.

In Ireland, a report is due out soon from an inter-departmental, inter-
agency working group set up within the Department of Agriculture and Food
to evaluate the issues and implications for crop production in Ireland
that would arise from the cultivation of GM crops.

It is also part of the group's remit to develop proposals for a national
strategy and best practices to ensure the co-existence of such crops with
both conventional and organic farming.

The issue is also expected to be an issue in the British general election
following a Tory Party decision to ban any planting of GM crops there
until or unless science shows it would be safe for people and the
environment, and the issues of liability and crop segregation are
properly resolved.

Against this background, interest groups here are gearing up for the debate.

Some farmers opposed to GM crops are erecting signs at the entrance to
their holdings. Various bodies from both sides of the issue are lobbying

Richard Auler, Ballybrado, Cahir, Co Tipperary, an organic farmer in this
country for the past 22 years, said that EU-wide, 79% of the population
is totally against GM crops either being sown or in their food, but said
this view is being ignored by politicians, public servants and the media.

"We must keep GM crops out of Ireland, not only to protect farming here,
but to protect our health and biodiversity," he said, urging individual
farmers and producers to challenge the introduction by stealth of GM
crops into Ireland. Otherwise, he claims, safe food production may no
longer be possible in this country.

Hugh Grant, president of US biotechnology giant Monsanto, told the BBC he
found the pace of change in Europe frustratingly slow.

He rejected the view that consumers were worried about the safety of GM
products and predicted these crops could be grown in Britain within 10 years.

He said more than 400 million hectares (one billion acres) of GM crops
had been planted around the world.

Farmers from China to Brazil were literally reaping the benefits. He also
insisted GM technology could be used to produce a range of crops with
distinct health benefits.

Friends of the Earth, however, said biotechnology firms had been
promising such "super crops" for years and had failed to deliver.

It insisted more research was needed into the effects of GM food.

It said people have genuine concerns about GM crops, their impacts on
health and the environment and the fact that they are being promoted by
multinational companies more interested in controlling the global food
supply and making a profit than providing healthy food.

Meanwhile, the largest study ever conducted on GM crops has concluded
that they can harm wildlife there were fewer seeds, bees and butterflies
in GM fields compared to their conventional equivalents.

The findings of the British study, which involved the collection of one
million weeds and two million bugs, and cost ?9 million, were hailed by
some groups as proof that GM crops are harmful to the environment and
should be banned.

In Ireland, the working group within the Department of Agriculture and
Food sought the observations of 35 groups representing environmental
interests, farmers, the seed trade, the biotech industry and consumers.

Minister Mary Coughlan said the Government's consistent position on the
issue was adopted from the report of an inter-departmental group, which
recommended a positive but precautionary approach towards genetically
modified organisms and biotechnology in general.

"While I acknowledge the potential benefits from the use of modern
biotechnology, it is critically important that the approval of
genetically modified organisms is carried out under the most stringent
controls and based on full scientific evidence to ensure that human
health and the environment are fully safeguarded.

"I am satisfied that such safeguards are in place with the adoption by
the Council and European Parliament over the past number of years of a
raft of regulations on genetically modified organisms, which also provide
for consumer choice through the labelling provisions," she said.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Monsanto Response to Publication of Latest Farm Scale Evaluations
SOURCE: Monsanto UK
DATE:   24 Mar 2005

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Monsanto Response to Publication of Latest Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs)

The final phase of the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM herbicide tolerant
crops were published on Monday 21st March 2005. These were the results of
the trials with winter oilseed rape (WOSR) - not a Monsanto crop.

These results have been published as a peer-reviewed paper in Proceedings
of the Royal Society B, and following a media briefing and one for only
selected stakeholders, a public presentation of the results by the
scientists involved was held at the Royal Institution, London, which
Monsanto attended, having contributed £1.5m towards the cost of the FSEs

The general conclusions of this study were presented as follows:

1. Overall the majority of plant and invertebrate species studied showed
no significant difference between the cultivation of GM and non-GM
oilseed rape. Whilst there were some differences, these were mostly
relatively small, and whilst some results favoured the conventional (non-
GM) crop, others favoured the GM crop.

2. The independent scientists concluded that all of the effects observed
could be explained by the level of weed control achieved by the different
herbicide programmes. This means the results were not influenced by
whether the crop was GM or not.

3. The growth of weeds and other plants within the crops showed few
significant differences until July, that is, the month before harvest. At
that time, there was less growth of broad-leaved plants in the GM WOSR
crop, which shed fewer seeds, whereas there was less growth of grasses
and of seed production in the non-GM crop.

4. Counts of bees and butterflies were not significantly different until
the month of July, when there were more counted in the non-GM crop. The
pest species, Cabbage White, showed the greatest difference in butterfly

5. Conversely, numbers of the soil invertebrates, springtails (important
for breaking down plant material into humus), were significantly higher
in the GM crop. Counts of other invertebrates i.e. slugs, snails,
spiders, rove beetles, and ground beetles showed no differences between
the GM and non-GM crops.

6. When all of the FSE results are considered together, any differences
in effects on farmland wildlife are far greater between crops of
different types (e.g. rapeseed versus maize or sugar beet) than any
differences between the GM and non-GM versions of the same crop.

Following lurid front page UK newspaper headlines such as yesterday's
Independent "The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to
story=622479 and today's Daily Mail with "VINDICATED - Finally, the long
and popular struggle to stop the growing of GM crops in Britain appears
to be over. A new study has shown -- yet again -- that cultivating the
modified crops devastates wildlife", it may be helpful to place on
record, a highly illustrative part of the Q & A that took place at the
public presentation of these results, which were not recorded by the
media present. This is unsurprising because such versatile crop
management techniques - unrelated to whether the crop in question is GM
or conventional - are a new concept to British farmers, available only to
the exiting 8.25 million GM farmers.

One of Monsanto's scientists, who has been closely involved throughout
the 6 years of FSEs, asked the following non-verbatim questions.

Question: In the published results for butterflies, there appears to be
no significant difference for total butterflies, but a significantly
lower count of Cabbage White butterflies in the non-GM crop. Does this
mean that other butterfly species were higher in the GM crop, and could
the numbers of Cabbage Whites be related to egg-laying (because WOSR is a
Brassica) rather than foraging for nectar?

Answer: It was agreed that the main significant difference in butterfly
numbers was in the pest species, Large Cabbage White. It was also agreed
that during July this species would be foraging for egg-laying sites as
well as for nectar, as the Cabbage White will lay its eggs in oilseed rape.

Question: Is it an accurate interpretation, from the whole FSE study, and
from this presentation, that the differences observed in populations of
plant and animal species can all be directly related to the level of weed
control by the different herbicide treatments. If so, from regulatory
considerations, can we now say that we can put the conclusion of this
very large study to constructive use, and make regulatory decisions on
the basis of weed control trials, for which there is a long history of
experience and available data, and of the kind which allow many more
comparisons of different dosages and timings of herbicides than were
possible in these whole field studies?

Answer: It was agreed that the results from this study showed that
populations of plants and invertebrates could be related to the weed
control programmes and their effects, so the simple answer is "yes".

The next step will be that these results, as with the previous results
for spring crops, will be reviewed by the Government's advisory
committee, ACRE.

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  UK Conservatives Attack Blair Over Biotech Crops
SOURCE: Reuters
DATE:   23 Mar 2005

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UK Conservatives Attack Blair Over Biotech Crops

LONDON - Gene-spliced crops would have no future under a Conservative-led
government in Britain unless conclusively proved to be safe, the main
opposition party said on Tuesday.

Shadow environment secretary Tim Yeo also blasted Prime Minister Tony
Blair for his apparent backing of the controversial technology and
ignoring persistent consumer fears about the safety of so-called
"Frankenstein foods".

The move comes just a day after a four-year 5.5 million-pound ($9.5
million) goverment-sponsored trial of genetically modified (GMO) crops
showed they could have detrimental effects on the environment.

"I think the signs show that we still do not fully understand what the
effect of commercial plantings of GM crops would be, although I don't
share the same concerns that some people stress about human health," Yeo
told reporters.

Launching the party's rural affairs manifesto ahead of an expected May 5
election, Yeo said a Conservative government would would ban outright the
gene-spliced varieties until it can be proved they pose no threat to the

"Our position is very different from Labour. It was them who authorised
the first planting of GM maize. Although it's not taken place and the
company involved has decided not to go ahead, it was their policy. It is
not our policy," Yeo said.

"And we do know that Tony Blair has been very keen to encourage the
growing of GM crops in this country," he added.

Britain gave biotech giant Bayer Cropscience a conditional approval to
market GMO maize seeds after studies showed they posed no threat to
wildlife, but the German-based firm dropped the plan, saying it was
"economically unviable".

In addition, the Conservative Party said it would boost environmentally
friendly transport fuels like biodiesel and bioethanol, issue licences to
cull badgers in areas most affected by the cattle disease bovine
tuberculosis (TB) and ensure more affordable housing in rural areas.

                                  PART IV
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TITLE:  abc statement on the results of the Winter Farm Scale Evaluations
SOURCE: Agricultural Biotechnology Council, UK
DATE:   21 Mar 2005

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abc statement on the results of the Winter Farm Scale Evaluations

abc welcomes today's publication by the Royal Society of the final set of
results from the Farm Scale Evaluation programme of GM field trials.

abc Deputy Chairman Tony Combes said "GM crops offer a better, more
flexible weed management option for farmers and, as the results today
indicate, the difference between the impact of growing GM and non-GM
crops on biodiversity is minimal."

Overall weed biomass was equivalent in both crops - grass weeds increased
in GM crops while broad-leafed weeds decreased in GM crops.

Where there were observable differences with a few specific insects these
were predominantly in July - a time in the crop lifecycle usually bereft
of insects. It is worth noting that a few insect groups were present in
increased numbers throughout the trials.

Mr Combes continued:

"These results confirm once again that GM crops give farmers the
flexibility that they need to balance economic viability with
environmental responsibility.

"This weed management option is delicate and precise enough to allow
active management for weed and insect species. As with all weed
management systems, some weed and insect species were positively, some
negatively and others not at all.

"Coming so soon after the recently-published research from the BRIGHT
Project and Broom's Barn, today's announcement shows once again that GM
agriculture can be used in a positive manner, with the potential to
provide marked environmental benefits.

"GM crops are now being grown by 8 million farmers, on 200 million acres
in 17 different countries around the world. 2005 will see the billionth
acre planted in the world since the introduction of GM crops 10 years
ago. The UK has been field testing GM crops for 14 years and abc looks
forward to the day when farmers in the UK are given the opportunity to
access this important technology."

- ENDS -


What were the FSEs?
The Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) were an investigation by independent
researchers aimed at studying the effect, if any, that the management
practices associated with genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops
might have on farmland wildlife, when compared with weed control used
with non-GM crops.

They were the largest ecological study of their kind ever undertaken, in
which insects, other small animals and weeds were measured in side-by-
side GM/non-GM plots at 270 sites in the UK (including around 70 sites
for winter oilseed rape).

The UK Government commissioned four FSEs on different crops in 1999;
these were winter oilseed rape, spring oilseed rape, sugarbeet and maize.
This final set of results refers to the trial of winter oilseed rape. All
the others were announced in October 2003. Our response to the first
results is available on our website at:

Background on Winter Oilseed Rape (OSR) Winter OSR is an important crop
for farmers It is grown in approximately 450 thousand hectares a year in
the UK The harvested seed is crushed for vegetable oil and the remaining
meal is used for animal feed Winter OSR is a far more profitable crop for
farmers than its spring counter part

Are these crops safe?
Yes. Long before these trials were proposed the GM crop had to
demonstrate it was at least as safe as the non-GM variety to regulatory
authorities in the UK and around the world where these crops are grown
commercially, including Canada and the US.

The herbicides used on the crops have also been tested as safe and are
the same as the ones you can buy from the high street to use in your garden.

How did the GM and non-GM crops coexist?
In all the FSE sites and many other trials around the world there has
been no coexistence problems. GM and non-GM winter oilseed rape crops
were planted a minimum of 50 m apart in line with SCIMAC guidelines.

What support did the agricultural biotechnology invite provide for the trials?
abc member companies are the licence holders for the crops (no crops can
be grown in the UK without a licence) and provided the seed, herbicide
and organised for the disposal of the crops. BayerCropscience is the
licence holder for winter oilseed rape.

What happens next?
The Government has announced they will refer the results to the Advisory
Committee on Releases to the Environment for advice on their
implications. (House of Commons written answer 219527, 3 March 2005.)

Where can I find the report?
The full scientific results will be published in the journal "The
Proceedings of the Royal Society" on 21 March 2005 and will be available
on the journal's website at The Scientific
Steering Committee, which oversaw the evaluations, will publish a summary
on the same day which will be available on the Defra website at:

Tel: 0207 395 8944 or 07909 521 949


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