Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Geneticst, 17th October 2003

PSRG is an independent organization with no political or industrial affiliations.

Britain's Farm Scale Evaluations on GE Crops show caution needed

Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics point to the results of Britain's Farm Scale Evaluations* just published which confirm the need for serious long-term research before genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) are considered for release into the NZ environment. 

Reports from Britain cite the co-ordinator of the project: "The results . reveal significant differences in the effect on biodiversity when managing genetically herbicide-tolerant crops as compared to conventional varieties. The study emphasises the importance of the weeds growing among crop plants in sustaining natural communities within, and adjacent to, farmer's fields."

The study comprises eight papers, and follows developments on about 60 fields. Each field was divided in half, half sown in genetically engineered (GE) crops and half in conventional varieties, and the farmers used normal farming management practices on them. On the half growing GE crops, a broad-spectrum weed control herbicide was used (glufosinate-ammonium  in maize and spring oilseed rape, and glyphosate in beet). 

Biodiversity comparisons of weeds and invertebrates, such as beetles, butterflies and bees, in the fields and at field margins, found significant and variable impacts made by GE cropping on the arable weeds, particular concerns including the decrease in the weed seedbank in some growing areas. Of twelve common UK weed species examined, the biomass of some species was significantly affected. Significantly lower densities were found in the seedbank for some species of weed after transgenic cropping which, compounded over time, could result in large decreases in population densities of arable weeds. 

Significant effects were also found on invertebrate species; e.g. fewer butterflies were recorded in transgenic oilseed rape and fewer bees, butterflies and Heteroptera in transgenic beet.  PSRG urges government to reinstate the moratorium until such time as genetically engineered crops can be shown not to adversely affect the New Zealand environment.

*The results of the project are published in Philosophical Transactions: 
Biological Sciences (Royal Society).

Contact: Secretary, PSRG, 440a Otumoetai Road, Tauranga; tel or fax 64 7576 5721;

Dr Paul Butler, tel 09 410 4707; 
Dr John Clearwater, tel 09 828 3339; 
Dr Peter Wills, tel 09 373 7599, Ext 88889.

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