Brussels, 17 Oct 2003
The UK's farm scale evaluations of genetically modified (GM) crops, the largest study if its kind to date, has failed to conclude whether such technology is better or worse for the environment.
The results, published on 16 October, suggest that while conventional beet and oilseed rape are better for wildlife than their herbicide tolerant GM equivalents, GM maize appears less harmful to many groups of wildlife than conventional maize.
The head of the team that carried out the field scale evaluations (FSEs), Dr Les Firbank, said: 'The results are clearly important to the debate about the possible commercialisation of GM crops. But, they also give us new insights that will help us conserve biodiversity within productive farming systems.'
The seemingly contradictory results led both pro and anti GM campaigners in the UK to claim vindication for their position.
CropGen, a group campaigning for the introduction of GM farming in the UK, issued a statement saying: 'Today is a momentous one for UK agriculture. The implications of the FSEs are clear: GM maize is good for farmers, better for biodiversity and is ready for commercial cultivation.'
Meanwhile, Dr Doug Parr, science director of Greenpeace UK, said: 'These trials [...] clearly show that the alleged benefits of the use of [genetically engineered] seeds do not exist.'
In the case of beet and oilseed rape, the trials recorded higher numbers of bees and butterflies in and around conventional crops, due to the presence of more of weeds to provide them with food and cover. There were also more weed seeds present in the conventional fields, an important food source for some birds.
The opposite was true in the case of maize, where more bees and butterflies were found among the herbicide tolerant GM variety, along with more weeds and weed seeds.
The trial results will now be passed to the UK advisory committee on releases to the environment, which will review the findings and advise the UK government on its conclusions.
In an unexpected move on 15 October, Monsanto, the company most closely associated with GM technology, announced that it was pulling out of the European cereal seed market. The company said it planned to sell its cereal development stations in the UK, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. To see the full reports of the field scale evaluations, please visit: http:///www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/phil_bio/ news/fse_toc.html
To download a short, non technical summary of the results, please visit: http:///www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/f se/results/fse-summary.pdf //RMK