ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
2 January 2003


Press  Release

Immediate release: Thursday 2nd January

Advice issued by the Government's 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 [1] on GM cross pollination of oilseed rape crops and wild plants was published in full this week after a summary was posted on DEFRA's 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" [2].

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" [3].

In contrast, ACRE' s advice concludes:
"ACRE considered the results of the monitoring carefully.  ACRE's 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"[4].

The consultants report also reveals the extent to which seed contamination has occurred:
"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%" [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:
. Seed spillages and failure to clean combine harvesters are likely to be a significant source of GM contamination.
. One volunteer GM plant per square metre in a field of oilseed would produce contamination rates of between 0.6% and 1.5% depending on variety.
. The discovery of weedy population of wild turnip co-existing and hybridising with oilseed rape in England. One plant sampled had 81 GM seeds out of 167 (48.5%).
. 0.5% contamination rates in crops at distances up to 200m.
. 3.2% contamination rates at 105m in some oilseed rape varieties [5].

. GM oilseed rape volunteers (weeds in following crops) survived for at least four years (up until the research was terminated in 2000).
. Wild oilseed rape close by crop fields was also contaminated.

The report recommends more research into the hybridisation of oilseed rape with wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) and wild turnip (Brassica rapus).

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 [6].

Commenting, Friends of the Earth GM campaigner Pete Riley of Friends said: "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." Ends

[1] 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 -
[2] Section 11.2 General Discussion page 113.
[3] Ibid
[4] ACRE advice
[5] As 2 above.
[6] 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                   200metres
Registered organic                     200metres
Conventional varieties and restored hybrids                 50metres
Varietal associations and partially restored hybrids      100metres
(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.

Pete Riley  07712 843 210
"The ACRE.. response to the report, also released on Christmas Eve, is complacent and irresponsible that we are calling for it to be disbanded. It is now so compromised and so heavily involved in defending the GM industry that it is actually operating against the public interest." - Dr Brian John quoted in The Western Mail: January 1, 2003, "Who knew about damning GM report?"

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