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2-Plants: GE crop impacts on wildlife can persist for two years

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TITLE:  GM crop impact 'lasts two years'
SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation, by Richard Black

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GM crop impact 'lasts two years'

A follow-up to the UK's major trial of genetically modified crops, the
Farm Scale Evaluations, finds that impacts on wildlife can persist for
two years.

The original trial found that spring GM rape and sugar beet were harsher
than their conventional equivalents in the short term, while GM maize was

The new study shows the same pattern at two years for rape and maize.

The British government has welcomed the findings, which it says "provide
important information" on GM crops.

Impression confirmed

The new information relates to three of the four crops studied in the
Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs): spring oilseed rape, sugar beet and maize.

Four crops - spring and winter oilseed rape, maize, sugar beet GM
varieties resistant to herbicides glyphosate or glufosinate
266 UK sites involved in trial
Half of each field planted with GM crop and sprayed with appropriate
herbicide; other half planted with conventional equivalent and sprayed
with comparator herbicide
Investigators monitored "biodiversity indicators" including weed seed
numbers, insect and bird populations

Initial results on these crops were published in October 2003; data on
the fourth crop, winter oilseed rape, was published separately in March 2005.

"The new study confirms our impression of what would happen when we
released the initial results," said Les Firbank, of the Centre for
Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, the FSE project co-ordinator.

"We did expect the differences to persist, and I don't think it will
affect any decision on approving GM crops," he told the BBC News website.

This follow-up, published in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters,
did not look at insects and birds as the initial study had done.

Instead, it confined itself to monitoring the weed seedbank - the number
and diversity of weed seeds left in the soil, which will be food for
insects and birds.

Delayed return

It found that the result seen at one year for maize, with the GM crop
leaving a greater seedbank than conventional varieties, persisted through
the second season after planting.

The converse result for spring rape - GM cultivation worse than
conventional - also persisted.

"After the trial season ended, the land returned to normal management and
farmers managed the two halves in the same way," said Dr Firbank.

"So we would expect differences to persist because weeds are controlled
by the farmers anyway; if you did see a big increase in weeds, you would
expect the farmer to do something about it."

However, areas which had been sown with GM beet and had initially seen a
fall in the seedbank compared with conventional cultivation appeared to
mount a partial recovery.

The initial trial result on maize had proved controversial because of
studies indicating that the herbicide used on the conventional varieties,
atrazine, is associated with a range of toxicities; its use is now banned
in most EU countries, though not yet in the UK.

The scientific team points out that any results seen in the studies are
direct consequences of the herbicides used rather than the plants
themselves, although these GM varieties are specifically created to be
used with proprietary herbicides.

Complex politics

The results are unlikely to have an impact on the broader question of
whether genetically modified crops are grown in the UK.

At one year, biodiversity indicators worse for spring rape and beet;
better for maize
Maize results compromised by concerns over comparator herbicide atrazine
Results for winter rape, published later, showed GM variety decreased
seeds important for birds
New study shows initial impact can persist for two years

Following the initial results from the FSEs, the government indicated
that it would approve cultivation of the GM maize used in the trial, the
Bayer product Chardon LL, and reject the others.

However, Bayer then decided not to press ahead with a UK introduction for

The legislative situation regarding GM crops across Europe has since
become more complex.

In principle, once one European Union member has approved a crop, it is
automatically approved in all other member states.

However, some countries have vetoed certain crops; and the EU Council of
Ministers decided in June not to remove that right, even though it may be
illegal under European law.


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