Genetically manipulated crops could spell extinction for birds
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- Subject: Genetically manipulated crops could spell extinction for birds
- From: MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
- Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 11:10:27 -0800 (PST)
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By Rory Carroll
Guardian (london) Friday February 19, 1999
A vision of genetically modified crops unleashing invasive species on
the plant and animal kingdoms was given in a government report
Domino effects could sweep through the food chain and threaten the
survival of Britain's wildlife unless GM crops were properly
regulated, the advisory committee on releases to the environment said.
The technology could accelerate the decline in bird populations
triggered 30 years ago by the introduction of specialised land use,
hedgerow removal, pesticides and fertilizers.
The Government's commitment to protect farmland wildlife obliged it to
take these declines into account when vetting GM crop applications,
said the report. "The introduction of GM crops in the UK should not
prejudice the objectives of enhancing biodiversity."
It identified the potentially adverse effects of releasing such crops
into the environment:
The persistence, invasiveness and competitiveness of new species could
change the population dynamics of surrounding areas by overwhelming
native plants and reducing the animal species that depend on them for
Wind or insects could transfer inserted genetic material to native
plants, turning them into hybrids with selective advantages over other
native plants, which may then suffer.
Soil decomposition may be affected by changed nitrogen and carbon
The law of unintended effect may result if GM plants unexpectedly turn
out to be unpalatable to herbivores, a trait which could be
transferred to native species.
The report said these effects could also occur as a result of
conventional plant breeding programmes, but the risk of transferring
genetic material between unrelated organisms was unique to GM
technology. On Wednesday, Monsanto, one of the world's largest
producers of GM foods, was fined £17,000 by magistrates in
Lincolnshire for failing to stop an altered crop from escaping into
The report said the introduction of novel pest and disease resistant
genes could reduce the need for crop rotations, which are important in
maintaining a variety of wildlife species. "On the other hand, the use
of GM crops could reduce the need for tillage, thus helping to
conserve soil moisture levels, and a range of organisms dependent on
Wildlife could also benefit if the new crops reduced chemical usage,
said the report, which complained that there were not enough
experimental trials to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages.
Veiled criticism was levelled at the Government for failing to devise
a strategic approach to regulation and reacting to developments on a
The report identified the main types of GM crops in Britain as oilseed
rape, sugar beet, fodder beet, maize and potatoes. They are being
developed to tolerate herbicides and resist pests and diseases.
Modifications have also been made to starch content in potatoes and
oil quality in oilseed rape. Male sterility and fertility restoration
have also been introduced to oilseed rape for breeding purposes.
NOTICE The Guardian is holding a debate entitled GM Foods: where does
the truth lie? Chaired by editor Alan Rusbridger with a panel to
include George Monbiot and Professor Steve Jones, it will be held at
Westminster Central Hall, London on Thursday February 25 at 7pm. For
tickets priced £5 phone 0990 334333.
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