- A vision of genetically modified crops
unleashing invasive species on the plant and animal kingdoms was given
in a government report yesterday.
- Domino effects could sweep through the
food chain and threaten the survival of Britain's wildlife unless GM crops
were properly regulated, the advisory committee on releases to the environment
said. The technology could accelerate the decline in bird populations triggered
30 years ago by the introduction of specialised land use, hedgerow removal,
pesticides and fertilizers.
- The Government's commitment to protect
farmland wildlife obliged it to take these declines into account when vetting
GM crop applications, said the report. "The introduction of GM crops
in the UK should not prejudice the objectives of enhancing biodiversity."
- It identified the potentially adverse
effects of releasing such crops into the environment:
- * The persistence, invasiveness and competitiveness
of new species could change the population dynamics of surrounding areas
by overwhelming native plants and reducing the animal species that depend
on them for survival.
- * Wind or insects could transfer inserted
genetic material to native plants, turning them into hybrids with selective
advantages over other native plants, which may then suffer.
- * Soil decomposition may be affected
by changed nitrogen and carbon recycling processes.
- * The law of unintended effect may result
if GM plants unexpectedly turn out to be unpalatable to herbivores, a trait
which could be transferred to native species.
- The report said these effects could also
occur as a result of conventional plant breeding programmes, but the risk
of transferring genetic material between unrelated organisms was unique
to GM technology. On Wednesday, Monsanto, one of the world's largest producers
of GM foods, was fined £17,000 by magistrates in Lincolnshire for
failing to stop an altered crop from escaping into the environment.
- The report said the introduction of novel
pest and disease resistant genes could reduce the need for crop rotations,
which are important in maintaining a variety of wildlife species. "On
the other hand, the use of GM crops could reduce the need for tillage,
thus helping to conserve soil moisture levels, and a range of organisms
dependent on this."
- Wildlife could also benefit if the new
crops reduced chemical usage, said the report, which complained that there
were not enough experimental trials to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages.
- Veiled criticism was levelled at the
Government for failing to devise a strategic approach to regulation and
reacting to developments on a first-come-first-served basis.
- The report identified the main types
of GM crops in Britain as oilseed rape, sugar beet, fodder beet, maize
and potatoes. They are being developed to tolerate herbicides and resist
pests and diseases.
- Modifications have also been made to
starch content in potatoes and oil quality in oilseed rape. Male sterility
and fertility restoration have also been introduced to oilseed rape for