02 Jan 2003
Advice issued by the Governments main GM scientific advisory
committee is in direct conflict with the findings of a major government-commissioned
report on GM oilseed rape pollination, Friends of the Earth said today.
The report  on GM cross pollination of oilseed rape crops and wild
plants was published in full this week, after a summary was posted on
DEFRAs website on Christmas Eve. Its findings put the early commercialisation
of GM oilseed rape in question, revealing significant contamination.
But the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE)s
advice, also published on Christmas Eve, played down the significance
of the findings, saying contamination was expected.
The report concludes:
if transgenic oilseed rape is grown on a large scale in the UK, then gene flow will occur between fields, farms and across landscapes .
It also highlights the difficulties in gathering information on the
likely extent of contamination if GM oilseed rape is grown commercially
in this country and calls for further research:
Gene flow at this level should be investigated on a landscape scale using larger numbers of transgenic pollen sources, and examining different genotypes (both of the transgenic plants and conventional varieties), the extent of pollen flow at further distances from sources, a range of environmental conditions, geographical location and patterns of cropping of GM and non-GM crops. It is only when these studies have been concluded under a range of UK conditions that farmers and seed producers will be able to accurately predict out crossing levels and develop appropriate strategies for managing it .
In contrast, ACRE s advice concludes:
ACRE considered the results of the monitoring carefully. ACREs risk assessment of GM oil seed rape has always assumed some gene-flow will occur and that this does not in itself constitute a risk to human health or the environment. It was concluded that the extent of gene flow observed in the monitoring between GM oilseed rape and adjacent crops, feral oilseed rape and wild relatives was entirely within expectations. The persistence of GM volunteers and feral oil seed rape plants were also entirely within expectations.
ACRE members were content that the results of the monitoring were consistent
with the existing risk assessment and no further action was necessary.
The consultants report also reveals the extent to which seed contamination
Tests of certified seed of a particular variety imported from North America since 1996, conducted by NIAB detected GM contamination in c 40% of samples ranging from 0.05% to 0.5% .
Current EU proposals for oilseed rape seed purity would set a maximum contamination rate of 0.3%.
Other key information emerging from the final report includes:
The report recommends more research into the hybridisation of oilseed
rape with wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) and wild turnip (Brassica
The full report does not provide metrological data for any of the study
sites making it impossible to judge whether the reported results could
be considered the worst case. Contamination of crop plants
was only monitored and found up to 250 metres from the GM crops and
no further. Current separation distances for GM oilseed rape are a maximum
of 200 metres .
Commenting, Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley of Friends
ACRE seems to have missed the main conclusions of the report. In fact they appear to be more interested in defending their earlier advice than listening to the science. Such complacency is completely unacceptable. The report shows there are still big holes in the science of cross pollination, and that more research is needed before GM crops can be given the go-ahead.
The Government must resist the pressure from the biotech industry to approve GM oilseed rape for commercial growing in the next 18 months and consider the full facts. Proving the safety of GM is going to be risky and costly. Surely the only sensible course is to abandon GM and instead help British farmers get off the agro-chemical treadmill by investing in sustainable farming.
 Monitoring large Scale Releases of Genetically Modified Crops
(EPG 1/5/84) Incorporating Report on Project 1/5/30: Monitoring Releases
of Genetically Modified Plants By Carol Norris and Jeremy Sweet National
Institute Agricultural Botany, Cambridge www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/research/epg-1-5-84.htm
 Section 11.2 General Discussion page 113.
 ACRE advice www.defra.gov.uk/environment/acre/advice/advice21.htm
 As 2 above.
 Current oilseed rape separation distances agreed between the Government and SCIMAC (the biotech industry body responsible for drawing up of the proposals for separation distances)
Certified seed crops 200 metres
Registered organic 200 metres
Conventional varieties and restored hybrids 50 metres
Varietal associations and partially restored hybrids 100 metres
(Joint press release from DETR and MAFF (46/01) 6 February 2001).
Varietal association varieties of oilseed rape have up to 80% of plants which do not produce their own pollen and are therefore more susceptible to cross pollination. Such varieties are sold commercially in the UK, eg Gemini and Synergy.
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