Agence France Presse
March 22, 2005


The largest study ever conducted on genetically-modified (GM) crops
has concluded they can harm wildlife, setting the stage for a fight in
Britain over whether to allow farmers to cultivate bio-engineered

The last trial in a four-year study, published Monday, compared GM
winter-sown oilseed rape to its conventional non-GM equivalent, and
found that in GM fields there were fewer seeds, bees and butterflies.

The rapeseed, like many other GM crops designed by agro-industrial
corporations, is designed to resist herbicide so that farmers can use
a broad spectrum of powerful weedkillers.

In the GM crop's fields there were also fewer broad-leaved weeds --
considered important because they feed insects -- even though there
were some grass weeds and soil insects remaining.

The results were the last of four major farm-scale trials overseen by
the environment and rural affairs ministry's Scientific Steering
Committee, which took four years, involved the collection of one
million weeds and two million bugs, and cost about six million pounds
(11 million dollars, nine million euros).

Environmental groups immediately hailed the findings as proof that GM
crops were harmful to the environment and should be banned in Britain,
where they face major public hostility.

"These results are yet another major blow to the biotech industry,"
said Clare Oxborrow, the GM campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

"Growing GM winter oilseed rape would have a negative impact on
farmland wildlife," she said.

An advocate at Britain's Soil Association, which oversees organic
farming standards, also denounced the results as "damning" for the GM

"They show that (the GM crop) would seriously exacerbate the decline
of farmland wildlife -- especially plants and birds," Gundula Azeez

"To reverse this decline, the government needs to seriously look at
farming without chemicals."

Environment junior minister Elliot Morley described the study as "the
biggest of its kind conducted anywhere in the world" and said it
affirmed the government's "precautionary" policy of making "case-by-
case decisions" on whether to approve GM crops.

In two of the other three trials -- involving spring-sown oilseed
rape, beet and maize -- whose results were published in October 2003,
conventional crops were again found to be better for many groups of

But the third trial that a kind of herbicide-resistant GM maize was
fit for cultivation -- if only for animal consumption.

German company Bayer CropScience was given the greenlight in March
2004 to cultivate Chardon LL -- but the company backed down from its
plan weeks later, calling it "economically non-viable".

The decision followed a survey showing that an overwhelming 90 percent
of the British public were against GM crops.

Even though the Chardon LL was only approved for animal consumption,
some critics voiced fears it could be indirectly absorbed by humans
through cow's milk.

Bayer said at the time it was scrapping its plans due to tough
government-imposed conditions on the GM maize production.

In Europe, the growing of GM crops on a significant scale takes place
only in Spain, which has 32,000 hectares (nearly 80,000 acres) set
aside for GM maize.

The results of Britain's fourth and last GM crop trials will now be
passed on to the government's statutory advisory body -- the Advisory
Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE).

Copyright 2005 Agence France Presse