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scientists react to publication of results from GM crop trials

The results of the Farm Scale Evaluations of GM Herbicide Tolerant Crops have now been released.

The scientific papers, and summaries of the results, are now available from the DEFRA website.

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), said:

“I welcome the long-awaited publication of this research and congratulate the researchers for the excellent work they have done. This has been a truly collaborative effort, involving scientists from BBSRC, NERC and SEERAD institutes working closely together. Scientific research continues to play an important role in shaping policy making, but this research is also important for UK science and lays down a strong foundation stone for future large-scale ecological studies of this nature. I look forward to looking at the results of this important research in more detail.”


Professor John Lawton, Chief Executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, said:

“The papers published today give us the outcomes of some very important scientific research. These trials have been carefully researched by independent UK scientists from several bodies and advised by an expert steering committee, and the results have been rigorously reviewed. I congratulate all who have been engaged in this complex bit of work. It is clear we have a wealth of new information about the biodiversity of the UK’s major habitat, agricultural land, and rigorous data that will be of great value to decision makers. I am very pleased to welcome their publication, and I look forward to reading them in detail.”


Professor Alastair Fitter, President of the British Ecological Society, said:

“GM technology, like any other, has the potential to do both good and harm, and it must be implemented in agriculture with great care to avoid serious adverse consequences. However, intensive agriculture has already inflicted serious damage to the flora and fauna of the countryside and the same precautionary principle could well have been applied to it. What is now needed is a debate about the type of agriculture and the type of countryside that we want. We have the technology to produce crops with high or low efficiency, with many weeds or with few, and with large environmental impacts or with small ones; and we know what the consequences of those approaches will be, partly from the mistakes we have made in the past. By focussing on GM, we are at risk of missing the real issues.”


Professor Ian Crute, Director of Rothamsted Research, said:

“Everyone who has a genuine interest in the influence of agricultural practice on the biodiversity of our wildlife should applaud the quality and value of the work published today. This research provides previously unavailable information about the fauna and flora inhabiting our arable fields and has achieved what it set out to do in providing data on the impact of weed management practices. It is evident from these studies that there are wildlife-friendly weed-control options for farmers which include the use of herbicide tolerant GM varieties.”


Professor Derek Burke, Former Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and Chairman of the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes (1988-97), said:

“I congratulate the scientists concerned for carrying through these valuable experiments to the end despite the continuing vandalism highlighted in the newspapers today. The results show that the scares raised by the green NGOs, the threat of ‘superweeds’ for example, are gross exaggerations, and that GM crops behave as we had always expected, like their non-GM counterparts; the only difference that was observed with two of the crops (beet and spring rape) was due to the absence of weeds, and not because the crops were genetically modified. This difference can readily be managed by changes in agronomic practice, for example by allowing weeds to grow at the edge of the fields or by using some land exclusively for plants which would benefit insects. In the case of maize, it is now clear that farmers can be given permission to plant this crop without fear of damaging the environment. GM plants are not the plague of darkness that some have said.”


Dr Guy Poppy, Reader in Ecology and Head of Biodiversity and Ecology, Southampton University, said:

“The results of the Farm Scale Evaluations now allow us to adopt an evidence-based assessment of the herbicide tolerant GM crops studied in the trials. The clearest message is that we were right to consider GM crops on a case-by-case basis. GM technology can produce many different products, and it would be naive to make all or nothing decisions about GM technology based on results about these herbicide-tolerant crops – something clearly stated by the scientists involved in the FSE. What we need to do now is ensure that the benefits of GM outweigh any risks, as is the case for maize. It is imperative that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose the benefits that some GM crops can offer.”


Dr Mark Tester, Senior Lecturer, Department of Plant Sciences, Cambridge University, said:

“The different effects of different crops on wildlife highlights the need for assessment of GM crops on a case-by-case basis. GM is a new technology, and as with so many new technologies its effects depend on how it is used. To generalise and say ‘all GM is bad’, or ‘all GM is good’ is a crude over-simplification, and these new results provide classic evidence of the complexity of the real issues. It’s excellent to see such thorough work addressing the effects of GM crops, and this will hopefully inject some rationality into the debate.”


Professor Denis Murphy, Head of Biotechnology Unit, University of Glamorgan, said:

“These papers clearly demonstrate that different transgenic crops can have very different effects on plants and animals in farming ecosystems. It’s hardly surprising that using more effective weed control measures may often result in reduced weed numbers, and associated populations of the invertebrates that feed on them. The key question is whether this reduction in farmland biodiversity is compensated for by the other environmental benefits of herbicide-tolerant GM crops, such as improved soil structure from reduced tilling and more efficient use of chemical inputs.

“This analysis should be done on a case-by-case basis and under rigorous, independent scientific scrutiny by the regulatory authorities, if we are to reassure an already skeptical public about the efficacy of GM crops.”


Dr Mike Wilkinson, Lecturer in Plant Science at The University of Reading, said:

“This is the most detailed study of its kind and should be warmly welcomed. These data are of huge significance in the debate on the possible release of GM crops in the UK and deserve very careful examination. The extent to which we are prepared to read, digest and then consider the implications of these findings will be an interesting measure of the extent to which the debate itself has matured.”


Sir Ben Gill, President of the National Farmers Union, said:

“The NFU has been a supporter of the Farm Scale Trials because we believe it is important to look at all the evidence. The decision on whether to allow these crops to be grown commercially now lies with the Government and it must be taken on a case-by-case basis using all the available evidence, including these trials, to make its decision.

“It must be remembered that these results primarily look at farmland biodiversity. Studies to develop best practice for the management of these crops, should they be approved, will be important if farmers are to deliver maximum environmental benefits.”


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