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Monday, January 25, 1999 Published at 16:35 GMT


Naturalists decry genetic crops all-clear

GM crops: The Lords just don't get the point, says English Nature

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The government's official adviser on wildlife, English Nature, has strongly criticised a Parliamentary committee for approving genetically-modified (GM) crops.

It says it "cannot understand" how a report on 21 January from the House of Lords European Communities committee gave GM crops the green light.

The committee's report said the potential benefits from GM crops far outweighed the risks, and so they should be grown in the UK.

It said there would be "great potential benefits to agriculture, industry, consumers and even to the environment".

But it said GM crops should be farmed only "provided that there is a proper regulatory framework in place to protect the environment and food safety".

There are fears that genes from the new plants could spread into wild species, both by normal pollination and by crossing species barriers.

An unfortunate impression

Some experts believe the crops could be harmful to humans, as well as to other plants and the species which depend on them.

English Nature called last July for a moratorium on the commercial use of most GM crops until more research had been done.

[ image: Soya beans: Commonest GM crops]
Soya beans: Commonest GM crops
It says now that "it is unfortunate that the presentation of the House of Lords report gave the impression of unqualified support for the benefits of GM crops.

"The risks of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) to wildlife and the environment have become increasingly accepted, both by the regulators and by the informed public.

"Indeed, almost half the committee's recommendations are concerned with broadening and making more rigorous the risk assessment and regulatory process necessary to deal with these risks.

"English Nature cannot understand how, while stressing the need for considerable tightening of the process of research and appraisal before any release of organisms was agreed, the overall message from the report can be that GMOs should go ahead."

Forthright dismissal

In a passage unusually robust for an official body, English Nature as good as says that the Lords did not know what they were talking about.

"We are very disappointed that this committee appears to have failed to understand the implications for farmland wildlife of growing GM herbicide-tolerant (HT) and insecticide-resistant (IR) crops.

[ image: Pesticides are forcing the skylark out]
Pesticides are forcing the skylark out
"They say that these crops may benefit wildlife. But there is no scientific evidence from Europe, the US and Canada supporting this.

"The committee has completely failed to grasp the point that applying broad spectrum herbicides to HT crops during the growing season will give many more farmers the power to remove all weeds from fields.

"We are also concerned that IR crops containing insecticides may have serious effects on non-target insect populations, reducing still further the food available to farmland birds."

English Nature says that in the past two decades the populations of 10 farmland bird species - including the skylark, corn bunting and grey partridge - have crashed to an all-time low.

It says it now has "strong evidence that a major factor in this decline is the increase in the use and effectiveness of pesticides, including herbicides".

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