info4action archive


GE - FoE animal feed briefing

Genetically Modified Crops and Animal Feed


This briefing is intended to help farmers assess whether or not to grow
genetically modified (GM) crops and to highlight the risks of GM animal

The crops most likely to come onto the market in the next three to five
years are GM oilseed rape (winter and spring), sugar beet, fodder beet and
fodder maize, all of which have been modified to resist broad spectrum

Concerns about the introduction of these crops have been expressed by a
range of conservation organisations, consumer groups and other groups, such
as the Women's Institute and the British Medical Association. 

What is Genetic Modification? 

Genetic modification is a technology which allows scientists to take genes
from one organism and put them into another. This changes the way the
organism develops, making new types of plants and animals. 

It is often claimed that genetic modification is just an extension of the
plant and animal breeding that has been going on for hundreds of years1.
This is not true. Traditional breeding techniques are restricted by natural
barriers that stop unrelated organisms (such as a rat and acotton plant)
from breeding with each other. Genetic modification is entirely different.
It allows genes to be crossed between organisms that could never breed
naturally. A gene from a fish, for example, has been put into a sweetcorn. 

Genetic modification is not a precise operation. Scientists do not fully
understand what happens when they fuse genes into the DNA of another
organism2. More than one copy of the gene may be inserted3, other genes may
get switched off4 or the genes vary in how they work5. Understanding of how
DNA and genes work is still very poor - for most plants and animals no one
even knows what the vast majority of the genes do or how they interact6. The
fact is, genetic modification is using haphazard methods to play with
something of which we understand very little. 

Potential Problems 

More hassle, same profit? 

A two-year study by the US government suggests that genetically modified
crops produce no better yields and require the use of no less pesticide than
non-GM crops.7 Yet growing GM crops may in fact mean more work for the
farmer! The Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops (SCIMAC)
has produced a set of guidelines for growing GM herbicide resistant crops
which has been endorsed by the Government8 The guidelines want farmers to
undertake a large number of extra jobs including: .

*increased record keeping; .*cleaning of farm machinery and stores;
.*negotiation with neighbours; .*removal of bolters from sugar beet crops;
.*mapping and control of volunteers; .*prevention of seed spillages and
clean-up after accidental spillages; .*monitoring and recording following
crops; .*minimise seed loss at harvest;

In addition, farmers will be expected to demonstrate the required levels of
training and competence before being allowed to buy GM seeds. If this hurdle
is overcome, farmers will have to register and agree to up to two annual
inspections. They will not be allowed to save seed, and the increasing
control of farms by large corporations will continue.

To justify these extra costs farmers will need either large savings in
production costs or a premium for GM produce. At present there is little
room for either. 

Food Safety

The safety of GM foods cannot be guaranteed. The Government has stated that
GM foods such as soya, maize and tomatoes are rigorously tested and on the
basis of extensive scientific knowledge, they are considered safe for all
sections of the population9. In fact, records of the Government's Advisory
Committee on Novel Foods and Processes shows that testing is limited to
short-term animal feeding trials, and data is submitted by the companies
themselves. Longer-term studies would provide a clearer picture of any
unforeseen consequences. If these products were drugs they would be tested
for far longer and would include tests on human volunteers. 

Many GM foods and crops contain genes which provide resistance to a range of
antibiotics including ones very commonly used in both human and veterinary
medicine. There is concern that these genes could be passed to bacteria in
the guts of humans or animals. The British Medical Association has stated
"The BMA believes that the use of antibiotic resistant marker genes in GM
foodstuffs is a completely unacceptable risk, however slight, to human

Contaminated Animal Feed

GM ingredients are being used widely in animal feeds. The following products
may be from GM crops: soya protein, maize products (including gluten) and
possibly some feed additives11. 

At present there is no legal requirement to label GM ingredients in animal
feed. In fact until this year there was no formal mechanism to assess the
safety of GM foods for livestock. At the moment farmers have no way of
knowing if they are feeding GM ingredients to their livestock and no
guarantee that there will not be long-term animal health implications. This
situation is reminiscent of the situation prior to the BSE crisis. 

Genetic Contamination 

One of the main difficulties which farmers will encounter when growing GM
crops is that there is no way to effectively contain pollen movement. In the
case of oilseed rape, researchers have found that its pollen can travel up
to 4km and can escape from fields even if there are barriers to prevent
this. 12,, 13 

In the case of maize, cross pollination has been predicted to occur at
distances of over 500m14. GM-free or organic crops are a rapidly expanding
market for farmers. Contamination from GM crops could result in these crops
being rejected and so cause loss of income for the farmer. The long
distances that viable pollen can travel mean that the isolation distances
between GM and other crops would have to be very large to be effective. In
the case of oilseed rape, the Governments own advisors have stated that
complete genetic isolation of transgenic oilseed rape, were it needed, would
have to be on a regional basis15.

In the case of sugar beet and fodder beet, one of the main concerns is that
cross pollination from GM crops will lead to the rapid development of
herbicide-tolerant weed beet. A study in France found that after one season
of growing GM sugar beet, weed beet plants in a nearby field were producing
herbicide tolerant seeds16. Once the herbicide resistant genes have escaped,
the ability of herbicide tolerant crops to control weed beet will be rapidly
compromised. Sugar beet pollen can travel over 3km so farmers in a large
area could be affected by pollen produced from bolting crop plants. The only
way to prevent this would be to ensure every bolter is destroyed before

The separation distances between GM, non-GM and organic crops set down in
the SCIMAC guidelines are inadequate because they do not reflect research
findings on how far viable pollen can travel. Resolution of disputes between
neighbours over separation distances will be left to farmers to sort out and
could lead to court action. 

Species Decline 

Herbicide tolerant crops are designed to resist the herbicides, Round Up
(glyphosate) and Challenge (glufosinate ammonium). Developments have
concentrated on broad leafed crops such as oilseed rape and sugar beet, in
which weed control has been less effective than in cereal crops. Farmers may
view this as a potential advantage, but concerns have been expressed about
the possible impact on wildlife. Most farmers are aware of the decline in
farmland wildlife that has accompanied the increasing intensification of
agriculture. For example, plants which were considered to be arable weeds
forty years ago are now listed as rare or scarce and some are endangered
species17. Similarly a range of bird species including tree sparrows, grey
partridges and song thrushes have shown drastic declines in numbers in the
same period.18

There is concern that herbicide tolerant crops will further the decline of
farmland species because their use could lead to the removal of weeds from
all crops in the normal arable rotation. This will put further pressure on
wild plants and reduce the food supply for insects and birds. These concerns
have led English Nature to state that the "untested introduction of GM crops
could be the final blow for such species as the skylark, corn bunting and
the linnet, as the seeds and insects on which they feed disappear."19

The SCIMAC guidelines aim to ensure best practice as regards agriculture and
the environment but they provide no advice to farmers on how to protect
wildlife. Baroness Young, Chairman of English Nature, has shown little
confidence in the guidelines, pointing out that "Farmers could follow the
code to the letter, but using these new crops could still remove all
wildlife using their fields."20

Financial Implications 

The financial implications of growing GM crops have yet to be fully
calculated. Companies may attempt to promote them as a cheaper, more
profitable option, possibly reducing the amount of herbicides that need to
be bought and the number of sprayings applied. However, thefollowing points
should be considered. 

Liability to Neighbours 

Friends of the Earth's research has shown that there is hardly anywhere in
the UK that GM crops could be grown without the risk of cross pollination
with other crops.21 This would not only affect organic crops but also
conventional 'GM free' crops. As the law currently stands, farmers may well
find themselves footing the bill for the contamination of a neighbouring
farm's crop. 

Liability to Consumers

The general public will be exposed to GM food either directly or by
consuming animals fed on GM feed. If a crop proves to have an adverse health
effect, it is not clear who would be liable, but farmers are obvious

Market Confidence 

If there is a GM health scare, the resulting loss of consumer faith in the
UK's agricultural produce could have disastrous financial consequences for
UK farmers. 

Land value 

A Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors' survey carried out in April 1999
found that 58% of land managers believed that growing GM crops could affect
the value of the land. In addition, 43% thought that growing GM crops could
affect the value of neighbouring land. Only one in ten said that they would
advise their clients to grow GM crops22. 

Extra Jobs

The possible reduction in the number of herbicide applications may look like
a tempting way of lowering labour costs. But it is worth comparing this with
the cost of carrying out the extra jobs that the SCIMAC Code of Practice

Fields Out of Production 

Once GM foods have been grown, the field contains seeds which will produce
GM volunteers. These can remain in the soil for years, appearing in
following crops. Farmers wishing to revert to GM free crops or convert to
organic may find it difficult to gain approval because of the presence of
these volunteers. 

Friends of the Earth's Position 

Friends of the Earth believes that the introduction of herbicide resistant
crops provides no benefits for UK farmers whilst at the same time posing a
real threat to our environment and wildlife. 

Friends of the Earth is calling for a moratorium on the growing of
genetically modified crops until the implications have been fully evaluated
and necessary action taken to avoid environmental damage and any unnecessary
risks to human health. 

Necessary research into the health and environmental impacts of GM foods and
crops has neither been completed nor fully identified by the government.
Friends of the Earth believes that introduction of this uncertain technology
should be delayed until the necessary research has been identified,
completed and fully analysed. 

Friends of the Earth believes that the biotechnology industry, and nobody
else, should accept strict legal liability for GM crop and food safety. We
therefore support the GM Food Safety and Producer Liability Bill recently
introduced into Parliament, which would do just that and provide indemnities
for farmers.

Friends of the Earth believes that genetic modification of crop plants is an
expensive diversion in the search for farming techniques that deliver high
quality food and a high quality rural environment. We are calling for
publicly-funded research into agricultural systems and methods which will
reduce inputs, protect the environment, provide high quality food and boost
rural jobs and economies. 

Friends of the Earth, 26-28 Underwood Street, 
London N1 7JQ Tel: 0171 490 1555 
Fax:0171 490 0881 
21 July 1999


return to text
1. Monsanto, 1998. This strawberry tastes just like a strawberry
Advertisement,Guardian, 4 July 1998. 
return to text
2. Maessen, GDF. 1997. Genomic stability and stability of expression in GM
plants Acta Bot. Neer. Vol 46(1) pp 

return to text
3. Delores, SC and RC Gardner. 1988. Expression and inheritance of kanamycin
resistance in a large number transgenic petunias generated by
Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. Plant Mol. Biol. Vol 11 pp 355-364 

return to text
4. Maessen, GDF. Op cit 2 

return to text
5. Mannerlof, M and P Tenning. 1997. Variability of gene expression in
transgenic tobacco Euphytica Vol 98 pp. 133-139 

return to text
6. Wan-Ho, M. 1998. Genetic Engineering - Dreams or Nightmares

return to text
7. Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.
July 1999. "Genetically Engineered Crops for Pest Management" availableat

return to text
8.SCIMAC. 1999. Guidelines for growing newly developed herbicide tolerant
crops. SCIMAC, Ely, Cambs. 

return to text
9. Factsheet on GM foods and crops, UK Government briefing to MPs, 18
February 1999, pp 3, para 4. 

return to text
10. British Medical Association Board of Science and Education. 1999. The
Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health- An Interim
Statement. BMA, London 

return to text
11. NFU Biotechnology working Group. 1999. Genetically Modified Materials in
Animal Feedstuffs- the Issues NFU, London. 

return to text
12. Thompson,CE, Squire,G, Mackay,GR, Bradshaw,JE, Crawford,J, Ramsey,G,
1999. Regional patterns of gene flow and its consequence for GM oilseed rape
in Gene Flow and Agriculture: Relevance for Transgenic Crops 1999 BCC
Symposium Proceedings No.72 pp95-100 

return to text
13. Simpson, EC, Norris, CE, Law, JR, Thomas, JE, Sweet,JB, 1999. Gene flow
in genetically modified herbicide tolerant oilseed rape (Brassica napus) in
the UK in Gene Flow and Agriculture: Relevance for Transgenic Crops 1999 BCC
Symposium Proceedings No.72 pp75-81. 

return to text
14.Emberlin,J, Adams-Groom,B, Tidmarsh,J. 1999. A Report on the Dispersal of
Maize Pollen. Soil Association, Bristol. 

return to text
15. Gray,AJ, Raybould. 1999. Environmental Risks of Herbicide-Tolerant
Oilseed Rape - A Review of the PGS Hybrid Oilseed Rape. DETR, London. 

return to text
16. Vigouroux,Y, Darmency,H, Gestatde Garambe, T, RIchard-Molard, M, 1999
"Gene flow between sugar beet and weed beet" in gene flow and Agriculture:
Relevance for Transgenic drops 1999 BCC Symposium Poroceedings No.72

return to text
17. Wilson, PJ,Boatman, ND and Edwards PJ. 1990. Strategies for the
conservation of endangered arable weeds in Great Britain in, Proceedings of
the European Weerd research Society Symposium, 1990: Integrated Weed
Management in Cereals.pp.93-100. European Weed research Society, Helsinki.

return to text
18. Campbell, LH, Avery, MI, Donald,P, Evans, AD, Green, RE and Wilson,JD.
1997. A Review of the Indirect Effects of Pesticides on Birds JNCC Report
No. 227. Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Peterborough. 

return to text
19. English Nature. 1998. Government Wildlife Advisor Urges Caution on
Genetically Modified Organisms - The New Agriculture Revolution. Press
Release 8th July 1998. 

return to text
20. The Daily Telegraph 22nd May 1999. GM farming code will not save
wildlife. p1. 

return to text
21. Friends of the Earth Press Release 17 June 1999 "No place to hide for GM


return to text
22. Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. 1999. Rural Land Managers
Cautious on GMO's News Release 9th June 1999. RICS, London.

Copyright  Friends of the Earth / Contact Us / Support FOE!