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From January 21, 2005

Environmentalists Respond to Industry Funded GM Study
(Beyond Pesticides, January 21, 2005)
A recently released study funded by the biotechnology industry has aroused environmentalists to speak out on the dangers that GM crops pose. The study, Management Of GM Herbicide-tolerant Sugar Beet For Spring And Autumn Environmental Benefit, was funded in 2001 and 2002 by a consortium of GM industry interests, the Association of Biotechnology Companies (ABC).

The research team studied the effect of genetically modified sugar beets on wildlife, in the midst of criticism that GM crops harm insects, birds and other wildlife. They studied timing of herbicide application and the effect of leaving weeds between crop rows. The researchers concluded that “some genetically-modified crops can be managed in a way that is beneficial to wildlife,” according to BBC News.

The Five Year Freeze Campaign said the research showed different management approaches would leave farmland wildlife short of food at some stage of the year. Five Year Freeze Campaign Director Pete Riley stated, "The choices offered by GM sugar beet cropping appear to offer farmland birds three options: insufficient food throughout the year, early season food or autumn food. We doubt that this last ditch attempt to save GM sugar beet will have much credibility with regulators or farmers."

Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner Emily Diamand stated, "This research, funded by the biotech industry, is a desperate attempt to counter detailed Government research showing that growing GM sugar beet would have a disastrous impact on farmland wildlife. Overall, the results do not appear to show biodiversity benefits from growing GM crops, yet they have been spun to give a different impression. GM crops remain a threat to our food, farming and environment, no matter how the biotech industry tries to sell it".

Friends of the Earth points out the weaknesses to this study:

  • The Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) trials have already shown that growing GM beet will have a negative impact on farmland wildlife. In the FSEs, farmers grew the crops and applied the herbicides as they normally would in commercial practice - this gives a much better indication of the true impact of growing these crops than this latest study does.
  • This study was funded by the biotech industry.
  • Some of the plots treated by band spraying glyphosate (spraying in strips 20cm wide) produced more weed seeds in the summer, but not in the autumn. The plots using a single spray of glyphosate produced more weed seeds in the autumn, but not in the summer. So to produce more weed seeds in summer and autumn (providing food for farmland birds) would need two separate GM crop management schemes.
  • The researchers claim that GM crops provide more flexibility for farmers, but in fact these management techniques are so complicated and intricate that it is very unlikely that farmers will ever undertake them commercially.
  • The study used so many different variations of treatments of the glyphosate herbicide, and not many replications of each treatment, that it is difficult to draw robust conclusions from the results - the statistical validity is questionable.

TAKE ACTION: To learn more about genetically engineered crops, and their effect on health and the environment, see Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering Program Page. You can help protect our land and food from genetically engineered ingredients and crops by buying USDA certified organic products. Lobby your supermarket to label GM food, and support local efforts to prohibit growing GM crops.