THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
17 October 2003
Dear Friends and colleagues,
RE: RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS DANGER OF GM CROPS
New research has shown that pollen from GM oilseed rape travels six times further then previously thought and if not controlled can contaminate non-GM crops for years. Further findings indicate that some GM crops could make birds such as the skylark extinct within 20 years.
The results further strengthen previous studies and observations that containing GM crops is nearly impossible and that co-existence between GM and conventional or organic farming is also highly unlikely.
The findings are also likely to intensify the debate in the EU over proposals to allow GMO contamination of conventional seed and the co-existence of GM, conventional and organic food production. Member states of the EU are due to vote on proposals to allow the contamination of seeds later this month.
The reports containing the findings are published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and are available at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/research.
With best wishes,
Lim Li Lin and Chee Yoke Heong
Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR
Four Defra-funded research studies (three concerning gene flow from GM crops and the fourth into the effect of farm management on wildlife) are now available on the Defra website at www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/research (these reports are not the results of the farm-scale evaluations of GM crops).
All of these are being forwarded to the Government’s statutory advisers on GM crop releases - the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment - so that they can advise on their implications for current, pending and future releases of GM crops.
They will also be passed to the reconvened GM Science Review Panel for their consideration (for more details see www.gmsciencedebate.org.uk ).
The four research reports published today are:
1. “Quantifying landscape-scale gene flow in oilseed rape (RG0216)”
This project was commissioned from the Scottish Crops Research Institute to examine the regional nature of gene flow in oilseed rape and its implications for crop purity. The main results of this project have already been published separately (see www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/research/epg-rg0216.htm for a full list). This study suggests that for oilseed rape:
(i) The amount of pollen-mediated gene flow rapidly declines over tens of metres from the pollen source,
(ii) Gene flow from a large area of plants to a neighbouring field of fully fertile plants is of the order of 0.1% (one seed in a thousand contains DNA from both crops) and
(iii) Long distance pollen-mediated gene transfer can occur, but that this is rare. This means that relatively small separation distances can reduce impurity through cross-pollination in fields of fully fertile oilseed rape to low levels (around 0.1%, or below), but that complete (100%) purity cannot be maintained by geographical separation.
The study provides evidence of some pollen-mediated gene flow to ‘bait plants’ over a distance of 26 km. Non-GM, male-sterile oilseed rape plants (so-called bait plants) were predominantly used in this study to help detect gene flow (as these plants rely on pollen from a male fertile oilseed rape variety for fertilisation). This study provides evidence that insects are predominately responsible for cross-pollination in oilseed rape. It also suggests that bee-to-bee contact in the hive is an effective means of dispersing pollen through the foraging area of a bee colony.
2. “The potential for oilseed rape feral (volunteer) weeds to cause impurities in later oilseed rape crops (RG0114)”
This study was carried out by the Central Science Laboratory and the Scottish Crops Research Institute. It examines whether oilseed rape (Brassica napus) could persist in the environment as feral (volunteer) weeds, for long enough, and in high enough numbers, to cause impurities in later crops.
Particular attention was given to the possibility of GM ferals affecting the purity of subsequent non-GM crops. The study uses information on the life-cycle biology of oilseed rape (mostly from non-GM oilseed rape crop plants) that has already been published to model how long feral populations from an oilseed rape crop would persist under different management practices.
The model considers a typical rotation of winter oilseed rape followed by two years of winter wheat over a period of 18 years. The rates of decline in feral oilseed rape population densities predicted by the modelling were consistent with the results of field studies. The model indicates that an impurity threshold of 1% could be met within reasonable timescales (e.g. five years) but only if feral oilseed rape plants are rigorously controlled i.e. they are destroyed before they set seed. 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% for 16 years.
The predictions made in this project will be compared to the persistence of feral oilseed rape populations left by GM herbicide tolerant varieties in the Farm-scale Evaluations.
Early indication of the results of this project led to Defra, in July, advising farmers involved in FSEs to avoid growing non-GM oilseed rape on the same sites owing to the risk of contamination by persistent volunteers (See Defra press notice 311/03).
The project does not indicate that GM varieties persist longer than non-GM varieties of oilseed rape. The GM trait however, allows the persistence to be accurately measured for the first time.
3. “Monitoring gene flow from GM crops to non-GM equivalent crops in the vicinity (EPG 1/5/138). Part 1: Forage Maize”
This study, carried out by the Central Science Laboratory and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, monitored gene flow from genetically modified (GM) crops to adjacent non-GM equivalent crops. It was undertaken to validate assumptions made in the original risk assessments concerning gene flow from GM plants. Gene flow was monitored at the farm-scale evaluation (FSE) sites of fodder maize crops.
Overall, results showed that there was a rapid decrease in the rate of cross-pollination within the first 20m from the donor crop and beyond this distance the rate of decrease was much slower. There was significant variation in levels of GM/ non-GM cross-pollination between sites in each year, although the variation between years across all sites was not significant.
Results from individual fields was related both to wind direction during the flowering period, synchrony of flowering between the two (GM and conventional) crops and to separation distances between the crops.
Evidence of low level gene flow was detected, beyond both the 80m and 200m separation distances recommended for forage maize and sweetcorn respectively. However the report concludes that a separation distance of only 24.5m would be required to meet the 0.9% threshold recommended by the EU, and that the 80m seperartion distance recommended by SCIMAC would be sufficient to ensure that cross-pollination levels were below 0.3%. These findings are in-line with expectations based on previous work.
4. “Modelling the effects on farmland food webs of herbicide and insecticide management in the agricultural ecosystem”
This project is a review of information relating to the effect of crop management on farmland birds. It attempts to gather information to predict how changes in crop management might affect birds. The project was commissioned from the University of East Anglia by Defra with a specific view to assisting the interpretation of the GM crop farm-scale evaluation results. The FSEs did not study birds directly, but they did study bird food resources. This project develops the methods for predicting how changes in bird food resources will affect birds themselves.
It is equally applicable to changes in crop management associated with any farming system - not just GM. It will therefore be of wider interest to conservationists.
The study will be made available to ACRE when they are asked to advise government on the implications of the farm-scale evaluation results, following publication on 16 October.
Notes for editors
1. None of these reports are the results of the farm-scale evaluations, which will be published by the Independent Scientific Steering Committee on October 16th. See www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse for details.
2. A further three reports, two reviewing aspects of biodiversity effects of GM crops and one report investigating gene flow from GM oilseed rape to wild relatives, will be published in the coming weeks. These will also be passed to ACRE and to the GM Science Review Panel.
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Press Notices available via Defra website
Friends of the Earth Europe
IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 14/10/03
GMO POLLUTION UNSTOPPABLE
London, Brussels - Devastating new research published by the UK Government shows that pollen from genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape travels six times further then previously documented and if not controlled can contaminate non-GM crops for generations. Further findings indicate that some GM crops could make birds such as the skylark extinct within 20 years.
The UK Government has published the results of four different projects (http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2003/031013b.htm) which show that:
· Bees can take oilseed rape pollen and pollinate with non-GM oilseed rape over a distance of 26 Km.
· If wild GM oilseed rape is not “rigorously controlled” then contamination would not “would not fall below 1% for 16 years.”
· Modelling indicates that the effects of introducing GM sugar beet could be “extremely severe, with a rapid decline, and extinction of the skylark within 20 years.”
The findings are likely to intensify the debate over proposals to allow GMO contamination of conventional seed and the co-existence of GM, conventional and organic food production. Member states are due to vote on proposals to allow the contamination of seeds later this month.
Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said:
“This research shows that allowing GMO crops to be grown in Europe will be a recipe for disaster. Containing GM crops like oilseed rape is virtually impossible and will cause contamination for years to come. The co-existence between GM and conventional or organic farming is simply not possible. Furthermore the research shows that our wildlife is being put at an unnecessary risk with birds facing extinction. The public and the environment must come before the commercial interests of the biotech companies.”
The UK announcement comes days before the results of some of the biggest and most controversial outdoor trials of GM crops are published (Thursday 16th October in London). Media reports have speculated that the trials will show that GM oilseed rape and GM beet damage biodiversity. 
Pete Riley FOE GM Senior campaigner +44 771 2843210 (mobile)
FOE London press office +44 207 566 1649
Adrian Bebb FOE Europe GM Campaigner +49 1609 490 1163 (mob)
Notes to editors
 The Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) results will be presented at 10.30 (UK time) on Thursday 16th October and also published on the UK Government website http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/index.htm
The Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops were commissioned by the UK Government in 1999 following intense public hostility and concern from its own wildlife advisors about the effects of introducing GM herbicide-resistant traits. The crops trialed were Bayer’s oilseed rape, maize and fodder beet, and Monsanto’s sugar beet. All crops are modified to be resistant to the companies’ own herbicide. The biotech industry must legally forward the results of the trials to the European country where they have made an application to market the crop. For the oilseed rape and sugar beet this is Belgium, the fodder beet Denmark, the sugar beet also Germany and the maize France.
The trials were highly controversial creating anger throughout communities in the UK. In particular there was no obligation to protect neighbouring farmers or beekeepers from GM pollution or to listen to the views of local people. As a result the trials were unwelcome and many GM plants were uprooted by local people and campaigners. In addition Friends of the Earth discovered GM pollen in beehives 4.5km from a trial. Subsequently beekeepers had to move their hives 6 miles (9.6km) from FSE sites.
Earlier this year Friends of the Earth published a new report highlighting the problems in the design of the trials and accused them of being politically driven. (http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press_releases/new_analysis_casts_doubt_o0.html)
The main findings of the report included:
o Ecologically significant differences between GM and non-GM crops may be missed because the experiment does not have sufficient statistical power.
o Monitoring of important soil organisms was dropped because of money and time constraints. Similarly, rare arable plants were excluded because of time constraints.
o Advice on the use of weed killer on the GM crops was given by the biotech companies who developed the technology, leading to concerns that the GM crops may have been managed to maximise biodiversity whilst ignoring the final yield.
o Evidence that in the United States additional herbicides are used to achieve the required level of weed control in maize crops has been overlooked, meaning the maize results could be irrelevant.
Last week, several reports in the UK press highlighted possible outcomes of the British research programme. According to the daily newspaper the Guardian - which claims to have spoken to scientists involved - the research will show that GM oilseed rape and sugar beet damages the environment. The damage to biodiversity is so serious that the UK government is reportedly already considering a ban on GM oilseed rape and GM sugar beet.