- Alarming new results from official trials of GM crops
are severely jeopardising Government plans for growing them commercially
- The results, in a new Government report, show - for the
first time in Britain - that genes from GM crops are interbreeding on a
large scale with conventional ones, and also with weeds.
- The report is so devastating to the Government's case
for GM crops that ministers last week sought to bury it by slipping the
first information on it out on the website of the Department of the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Christmas Eve, the one day in the year
when no newspapers are being prepared.
- Even then, the department published only a heavily edited
summary of the main report. Unusually, the full report, which will contain
much more devastating detail, was withheld from publication on the website.
Defra said it was available on request, but when The Independent on Sunday
tried to ask for it last week, the department said no one was available
to provide it.
- The report, the result of six years of monitoring of
GM crops in Britain, is particularly politically explosive and it gives
the first results from the official farm-scale trials, which ministers
have been running to test the suitability of growing GM crops in Britain.
- The Government has repeatedly said that the results of
the trials would settle the question of whether GM crops endangered the
environment but - perhaps because it knew what the research had found -
it has been downplaying their significance in recent weeks.
- The trials - originally set up to buy time in the face
of strong public hostility to the crops - were not designed to look at
the possibility of genes from GM crops contaminating nearby plants, but
focusedon the effects of different uses of pesticides on GM and non-GM
plants. But, after this was criticised, studies of this "gene flow''
were bolted on.
- The report covers true studies carried out between 1994
and 2000 by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and the Laboratory
of the Government Chemist. It shows that genes from GM oil seed rape, specially
engineered to be resistant to herbicides, contaminated con- ventional crops
as far as 200 yards away.
- Equally alarmingly, GM oil seed rape that escaped from
a crop harvested in 1996 persisted for at least four years, until studies
ended in 2000.
- In another case, the report adds: "It was found
that some combine harvesters were not cleaned after the harvesting of the
GM crop,'' and "subsequently flushed out'' the GM seed on to ground
intended for conventional crops "causing contamination of this field.''
- Most worryingly of all, the report shows that the GM
crop readily interbred with a weed, wild turnip, giving it resistance to
herbicides and thus raising the prospect of the development of "super
- The report concludes that the research "indicates
that commercial-scale releases of GM oil seed rape in future could pollinate
other crops and wild turnip''.
- Other studies from elsewhere in the world have shown
that interbreeding occurs, and English Nature, the Government's wildlife
watchdog, has said super weeds will "inevitably'' emerge in Britain
if GM crops are grown commercially.
- In a commentary also published by Defra on Christmas
Eve, the official advisory committee on releases to the environment said
that the contamination was "entirely within expectations''.
- The committee added that "in itself'' gene flow
did not constitute a risk to the environment. But Pete Riley of Friends
of the Earth said the results showed that if GM crops became widespread,
almost all similar crops would inevitably become contaminated, severely
threatening organic agriculture. He added: "It is not surprising that
the Government has tried to cover up this report.
- "It shows that we need to know a great deal more
about these issues before we even contemplate growing GM crops commercially.''
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