Archived press release
New analysis casts doubt on GM farm scale evaluations

A new analysis by Friends of the Earth [1], published today and highlighted in this week's New Scientist magazine [2], suggests that the science and conduct of the Government-sponsored GM farm scale evaluations (FSE) will fail to provide any conclusive evidence on whether GM crops will do long-term harm to farmland wildlife.

Friends of the Earth based their analysis on materials already published, including the tender documents, minutes and interim reports by the research consortium [3] who carried out the field work, and analysis of the results and the Scientific Steering Committee [4]. The FSE results are due to be published in the autumn.

The main findings of Friends of the Earth's report are that [5]:

  • Ecologically significant differences between GM and non GM crops may be missed because the experiment does not have sufficient statistical power.

  • The scope of research was seriously limited by time and resource constraints.

  • It may be impossible to detect any meaningful differences for some important indicator species.

  • Monitoring of important soil organisms was dropped because of money and time constraints.

  • Rare arable plants were excluded from the study because of time constraints.

  • Modelling based on the results will be hampered by a lack of knowledge about interactions between different species, which food sources are preferred by which birds and mammals

  • Poor geographical distribution of the trials undermines the relevance of the results (eg 45% of maize is grown in the SW region but only 8% of trials took place there).

  • Advice on the use of weed killer on the GM crops was given by the companies who developed the technology, leading to concerns that the GM crops may have been managed to maximise biodiversity whilst ignoring the final yield.

  • 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.

Friends of the Earth Real Food and Farming Campaigner Pete Riley said:

"We have published this report because we think it is vital that the public, farmers and the Government realise the limitations of the Farm Scale Evaluation results. These studies, due out in the autumn, are incapable of providing adequate evidence that GM crops have no impact on wildlife. This is not the fault of the researchers - their hands were tied.

"The Government was not interested in properly investigating the long term impacts of GM crops, it wanted to avoid the threat of a moratorium. But they cannot expect the British public to accept that the future commercialisation of GM crops poses no threat to wildlife without the hard evidence."

Notes

[1] Science as a Smokescreen, written by Emily Diamand, published by Friends of the Earth, March 2003. Full copies of the report are available at www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/science_smokescreen.pdf (PDF†) and from the press office at Friends of the Earth.

[2] See New Scientist 29th March 2003, Vol. 177 No. 2388

[3] The research contractors were the Institute of Hydrology and Ecology (formerly the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology), the Institute of Arable Crop Research and the Scottish Crop Research Institute.

[4] The Scientific Steering Group chaired by Professor Chris Pollack was established before the contractors were appointed and set the parameters for the design of the research in the FSE.

[5] A media briefing is available from the press office at Friends of the Earth.


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If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.

 

Published by Friends of the Earth Trust