GM crops flunk the test

Feature story - 3 October, 2003
The debate on Genetically Modified (GM) crops is often a polarised one with environmentalists and the majority of sceptical consumers against the crops and powerful corporate interests attempting to steamroller all opposition. Now those companies may be in for a serious setback, as scientific tests devised by the UK Government and GM companies look set to say that GM crops are environmentally unsafe.

GM maize was one of the crops tested in the UK.

Leaked results of field trials involving 3 GM crops have shown them to be more harmful to the enviornment than conventional varieties. The trials involved maize, sugar beet and oilseed rape. The crops, developed by Monsanto and Bayer, are modified to resist herbicide produced by the same companies. This allows farmers to eradicate all weeds from fields of GM crops.

Compared to the fields treated in the conventional way the GM trial fields contained much less wildlife because the herbicides kill all weeds in the fields, leaving no food for farmland insects. While bugs in crops might not sound so important, they are the basis of the food chain in agricultural land. So without them it is not long before songbirds and other larger countryside animals start to disappear.

Only GM maize seems to have less effect on wildlife because conventional maize is treated with herbicides even more powerful than the Bayer product sprayed on the GM maize. However US farmers have found that they must spray GM maize with highly toxic herbicides like Atrazine to stop yields suffering due to weed competition.

The results will be formally announced on October 16 but if the leak is accurate it will be a major setback for the GM lobby. Already the EU health commissioner, David Byrne, has indicated that a threat to British wildlife from GM crops would be sufficient grounds for the UK Government to ban the growing of such crops.

The leaked results are also significant because Europe is the centre of genetic diversity for both oilseed rape and sugar beet. If GM versions of these crops were planted commercially throughout the EU there would be inevitable and irreversible contamination of natural biodiversity.

Now the ball is firmly in the court of governments like the UK and the EU. Will they choose for the interests of the public and the environment or for profits of big business and US Government bullying?


Find out more about the US legal case to force GM on Europe.

Read the original leak story on the Guardian.