Brussels, 14 Jan 2004
The advisory committee on releases to the environment (ACRE), which guides UK government policy on commercialising genetically modified (GM) crops, has warned that two out of the three GM varieties assessed during farm scale trials pose a threat to the environment.
ACRE's advice was delivered to UK Environment Minister Margaret Beckett on 13 January, based on the results of farm scale evaluations (FSEs) published last October. The scientific body concluded that if GM herbicide tolerant (HT) beet and oilseed rape were commercially grown in the same way as during the trials 'this would result in adverse effects on arable weed populations.'
The assessment continued: 'The effects on arable weeds would be likely to result in adverse effects on organisms at higher trophic levels (for example, farmland birds), compared with conventionally managed oilseed rape [and beet].'
The third GM crop involved in the FSEs, GM maize, was found not to have any adverse effects on the environment as defined by the relevant EU directive. ACRE therefore concluded that GM maize could be cultivated, as long as growers apply the same method as used in FSEs.
ACRE's findings were backed by English Nature, the UK government agency responsible for wildlife conservation, which also delivered advice on the FSE results. It stated that: 'GMHT spring oilseed rape and beet should not be commercialised, but [...] GMHT maize may be commercialised subject to certain conditions.'
Speaking on behalf of the UK government, Ms Beckett said: 'We will now consider ACRE's advice, as well as the advice from English Nature, very carefully before reaching a view on whether these crops should be approved for cultivation in the EU.'
'I have said consistently that the government is neither pro nor anti GM crops - our overriding concern is to protect human health and the environment, and to ensure genuine consumer choice,' Ms Beckett added.
Also on 13 January, the Observa research centre published its third survey on public opinion towards biotechnologies in Italy. The results showed that more than two thirds of the country (68 per cent) now considers GMOs to be unsafe, compared with 49 percent in 2001.
Despite the apparent hardening of public opinion against GMOs, more than half of the population (57 per cent) believe that research into agricultural biotechnologies should continue. The two main reasons given for continuing to investigate the technology were its potential to solve the world hunger problem and an unwillingness to stifle scientific progress.