The truth about GM crops

by SEAN POULTER, Daily Mail

GM farming would pollute the countryside for generations, the Government's own research has revealed.

Tests showed that pollen contamination would spread far further than previously thought and "feral" growth from just one crop would persist for years.

At the same time, the heavy use of chemicals associated with "Frankenstein" crops could wipe out some bird species.

What is so disturbing about the findings is that they come not from the anti-GM lobby but from three separate studies conducted on behalf of Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Indeed their combined effect is to suggest that the impact on the natural world could be even more devastating than campaigners have predicted.

  • In one study, tests on genetically modified oilseed rape showed that fields could be infested with 'feral' plants for 16 years from a single crop. Only heavy spraying with chemicals would kill them off.

  • In another, it was found that GM pollen from trial sites of oilseed rape had travelled 16.1 miles, most likely carried by bees. This is six times the previously estimated maximum distance.

  • And in a third, experts focusing on the effect on wildlife forecast extinction for the skylark within 20 years. Last night

    Friends of the Earth campaigner Pete Riley said: "GM is the corruption of nature. These studies highlight the enormous damage that will be caused to our food and environment if GM crops are commercially grown in the UK.

    Dr Mark Avery, director of conservation at the RSPB, said: "If these studies are accurate it would be disastrous for the bird population.

    'The real danger is that GM crops will lead to the widescale destruction of bird life and a silent spring."

    The research on the "life" of a GM crop was conducted by experts at the Scottish Institute and the Central Science Laboratory, who produced a mathematical model to mimic the growing of oilseed rape for one season.

    They found that traditional crops grown afterwards on the same plot would be contaminated to more than 1 per cent for five years, because some GM plants would inevitably survive the harvest to germinate and create new generations.

    In a devastating conclusion, they add: "If no attempt to control feral oilseed rape plants is made, the model predicts that the presence of the original variety in subsequent crops would not fall below 1 per cent for 16 years."

    Tests on the airborne spread of pollen were carried out by the Scottish Crops Research Institute.

    Fields of so-called "bait plants", placed at various distances from GM trial crops, were assessed to discover how far pollen might be carried by wind or insects.

    Their conclusion said: "The study provides evidence of some pollen mediated gene flow to bait plants over a distance of 16.1m."

    They said the spread could be even further and admitted it was impossible to put an upper limit on the potential distance.

    The main cause of the spread was bees and other insects such as the pollen beetle. These findings have enormous implications for organic and conventional farmers, whose crops would be tainted by GM pollen. Honey producers would also suffer.

    Organic farmers would lose their status. Even conventional farms would not be able to sell to UK supermarkets, who demand ingredients have a GM contamination level of less than 0.1 per cent.

    It was also found that pollen from GM sweetcorn travelled further than the 200m separation distance currently in force to stop contamination of surrounding crops.

    A similar effect was seen beyond the 80m "barrier" for GM forage maize. The assessment of the effect on wildlife was conducted by experts at the University of East Anglia.

    One of their most disturbing findings was that the introduction of GM beet and related chemical spraying would wipe out a weed known as fat hen, which produces seeds that are vital to the diet of the skylark.

    When several GM crops are introduced, the associated spraying leads to a reduction in all types of weeds and insects.

    "The consequences of growing GM sugar beet were extremely severe, with a rapid decline, and extinction of the skylark within 20 years," said the report.

    Crops of GM oilseed rape would also have "severe consequences" for the cirl bunting, it added.

    The RSPB argues that other bird species such as the yellowhammer, tree sparrow and corn bunting, whose numbers have declined by up to 95 per cent in the past 25 years, are also threatened.

    It said the University of East Anglia study was "good, sound and independent science". The latest developments come on the back of official reports which question the economic viability of GM crops and their safety.

    Last month the public voted by a majority of nine to one against commercial cultivation through the "GM Nation" consultation exercise.

    The results of separate, more extensive trials on three GM crops, oilseed rape, maize and beet, are due to be published on Thursday.

    These will play a crucial part in whether the Government, which is perceived as having a pro- GM bias, will allow commercial planting to go ahead.

    The Five Year Freeze campaign, a coalition of community groups and charities ranging from the National Association of WI to Greenpeace and Action Aid, said the official studies vindicated its opposition.

    A petition of 75,000 names opposing GM was handed into Downing Street yesterday following a march in London.

    Greenpeace's Ben Ayliffe said: "In the past, our concerns on GM have been brushed aside by the Government, which thought it knew better. Maybe now they will realise this GM experiment will be a huge and irreversible nightmare."

    The EU environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom launched an astonishing attack on U.S. biotech companies and President Bush for trying to force GM onto the world.

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