(October 24, 2003) According to an October 17th story in the British-based Independent News, a study by British scientists shows that growing genetically modified (GM) crops could harm the environment. Specifically, the three-year study, led by the British government, shows that farmland wildlife is harmed much more by the extra-powerful herbicides used with GM crops than by the herbicides used in conventional agriculture.
The results of the study came after a succession of reports to the Government this summer, all questioning the economics, the science and the public acceptability of GM, and will be seen in some quarters as the clinching argument against GM commercialization in Britain. Michael Meacher, who as environment minister set up the study in 1998 and presided over it for most of its duration before being sacked in the last government reshuffle, told the Independent that the Government's strategy over GM "is unravelling fast."
The study, known as the Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSE), compared what happened to biodiversity in the fields during the growth of three GM crops - sugar beet, canola (oilseed rape) and corn - with what happened during the growth of their conventional, non-GM equivalents in adjoining fields. The GM crops had all been genetically engineered to be herbicide-tolerant - to be unaffected by so-called "broad-spectrum" herbicides, very deadly chemicals such as Monsanto's Roundup or Bayer's Liberty, which are too strong to be used in conventional crop fields as they would kill everything, including the crop plants themselves.
With two out of three crops tested - beet and canola - far fewer plants, seeds and insects such as bees and butterflies were left in the GM fields after the application of weedkiller than in the non-GM fields, the study found. In the beet fields, there were 1.3 times as many weeds and three times as many seeds left for birds and insects to feed on in the conventional fields compared with the GM fields, with 1.4 times as many butterflies. In the oilseed rape fields there were 1.7 times as many weeds, five times more seeds and 1.3 times as many butterflies.
With a third crop, maize, the reverse trend was true, with more biodiversity left in the GM fields - but the researchers themselves put a question mark over this result yesterday, saying it might have to be revised. This is because the herbicide that was used with the conventional maize, atrazine, is itself so deadly and long-lasting that it is being banned in Europe - and so the comparison is potentially flawed. Read the full article in the Independent.
In related news: Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who is currently involved in a court case against the Monsanto corporation, will appear Saturday, October 25 at 9:00 am Pacific Time (noon, Eastern Time) on The Food Chain with Michael Olson. Listen here. Percy Schmeiser is a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan Canada whose Canola fields were contaminated with Monsanto's Round-Up Ready Canola. Monsanto's position is that it doesn't matter whether Schmeiser knew or not that his canola field was contaminated with the Roundup Ready gene and that he must pay their Technology Fee. Mr. Schmeiser's case is in the hands of the Canadian Supreme Court. In April 2003, Percy Schmeiser told his story to the participants of the National Pesticide Forum.
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