Harvest fears as MAF starts search for lost seed  "Thousands of genetically modified maize plants may have been harvested in the country's biggest accidental release of GM-contaminated seed"
12 May 2004
New Zealand Herald

Government plays down discovery of contaminated seeds
"The Government today played down a discovery of imported maize seed contaminated with genetically engineered (GE) material"
12 May 2004
New Zealand Herald

Buried Treasures: Stink surrounds GM onions
"... the Environmental Risk Management Authority (Erma) has signalled that genetic experiments will no longer get an easy ride to approval ..."
20 January 2004
New Zealand Herald

Largest user of canola oil goes GE-free
"One of New Zealand's biggest food companies, Goodman Fielder, has taken a stand against genetic engineering ..."
25 November 2003
New Zealand Herald

Growers: tears in GM onions
"New Zealand should be looking at other ways to control weeds rather than by producing herbicide tolerant onions, growers say ..."
17 November 2003
New Zealand Herald

New Zealand's unsullied natural image seems veil of lies
"... It's as if all the clean, green marketing, the image New Zealand has worked so hard to cultivate around the world, is no more than a thin veil of lies ..."
10 November 2003
New Zealand Herald

GM pine trees in
virus probe

"An investigation has started into possible contamination of genetically modified pine trees being grown in a field trial ..."
6 November 2003
New Zealand Herald

US firm mystery GM ally
"The state-owned Crop & Food research institute has unveiled the mystery collaborator on its genetically modified onions project ..."
5 November 2003
New Zealand Herald

Government opens door to GE despite protests, polls and threats
"The moratorium on commercial release of genetically modified organisms ends at midnight tonight with the biotechnology industry hailing it a milestone and opponents threatening sabotage ..."
29 October 2003
New Zealand Herald

NZ bread rejected over GM content
"Subway sandwiches made in New Zealand use the same bread dough that has caused an outcry in Japan because it contains a product made using an unauthorised GM organism ..."
27 October 2003
New Zealand Herald

Secluded isles face unknown GE risk
"On the eve of the lifting of the GE moratorium, science reporter Simon Collins finds the jury still out on safety ..."
26 October 2003
New Zealand Herald

More than one Maori view on genetic engineering
"A Te Arawa elder has endorsed research aimed at producing a genetically modified pine tree - but Auckland's Ngati Whatua people are not so sure. ..."
26 October 2003
New Zealand Herald

GM release a gamble not worth the candle
"The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, consistently characterises her refusal to extend the moratorium on applications for the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment as 'rational' ..."
24 October 2003
New Zealand Herald

Thousands unite to send anti-GE message to Government
"Some 9000 protesters marched through the centre of Auckland today to show the Government the groundswell of opinion against genetic engineering ..."
11 October 2003
New Zealand Herald

Home > Environmental issues > Article >

17 April 2005, The Independent

US sent banned corn to Europe for four years  "All imports of United States corn have been stopped at British ports following the discovery that the US has been illegally exporting a banned GM maize to Europe for the past four years..."

The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to wildlife

By Steve Connor, Michael McCarthy and Colin Brown
22 March 2005

Yet another nail was hammered into the coffin of the GM food industry in Britain yesterday when the final trial of a four-year series of experiments found, once more, that genetically modified crops can be harmful to wildlife.

The study was the fourth in a series that has, in effect, sealed the fate of GM in the UK - at least in the foreseeable future.  They showed the ultra-powerful weedkillers that the crops are engineered to tolerate would bring about further damage to a countryside already devastated by intensive farming.

Only one of the four farm-scale trials, which have gone on for nearly five years, showed that growing GM crops might be less harmful to birds, flowers and insects than the non-GM equivalent - and even that was attacked as flawed, because the weedkiller the particular conventional crop required was so destructive it was about to be banned by the EU.

Even so, a year ago the Government gave a licence for that crop - a maize known as Chardon LL, created by the German chemical group Bayer - to be grown in Britain, thus officially opening the way for the GM era in Britain, to loud protests from environmentalists.

However, only three weeks later Bayer withdrew its application, suggesting the regulatory climate would be too inhibiting. That followed the withdrawal from Europe of the world leader in GM crops, the American biotech giant Monsanto, which also seemed to have tired of the struggle.

Since then, the GM industry in Britain has withered on the vine, despite the fact that some members of the Government, and Tony Blair in particular, were privately great supporters of it from the outset. Official policy is portrayed as being neutral and based simply on scientific advice.

But yesterday's results make it even less likely that other big agribusiness firms will want to come forward and go through the extensive testing process - and public opposition - that bringing a GM crop to market in Britain would involve.

Last night, the Conservatives spotted a political opportunity from the latest test results and, this morning, the shadow Environment Secretary, Tim Yeo, will pledge to prevent any commercial planting of GM crops until science showed it would be safe for people and the environment, and there was a liability regime in place to deal with any cross-contamination.

Observers saw that as yet another Tory attempt to win over Middle England voters in the pre-election campaign.

The fourth and final mass experiment involving GM crops has found that they caused significant harm to wild flowers, butterflies, bees and probably songbirds.  Results of the farm-scale trial of winter-sown oilseed rape raised further doubts about whether GM crops can ever be grown in Britain without causing further damage to the nation's wildlife.

Although the experiment did not look directly at the catastrophic demise of farmland birds over the past 50 years, ornithologists said the results suggested that growing GM oilseed rape would almost certainly exacerbate the problem.

David Gibbons, the head of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the herbicides used to spray GM rape killed broad-leaved wild flowers such as chickweed and fat hen which are important to the diet of songbirds such as skylarks, tree sparrows and bullfinches.

"For most farmland birds, broad-leaved weeds are a particularly important part of their diet.  There are a few birds that will take grass seeds but, by and large, it would be hard to see how the loss of broad-leaved weeds would be beneficial to them," Dr Gibbons said.  "Broad-leaved weeds are particularly important to farmland birds and the widespread cultivation of this crop, in this way, would damage hopes of reversing their decline."

The trial of winter oilseed rape involved planting conventional and GM forms of the crop in adjacent plots at 65 sites across Britain.  Scientists then carefully monitored wild flowers, grasses, seeds, bees, butterflies and other invertebrates.

Over the course of the three-year experiment, the scientists counted a million weeds, two million insects and made 7,000 field trips.  Although they found similar overall numbers of weeds in the two types of crop, broad-leaved weeds such as chickweed were far fewer in the GM plots.  The scientists counted fewer bees and butterflies in the GM plots compared to plots of conventional oilseed rape.

Les Firbank, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, who led the study, said that there was about one-third fewer seeds from broad-leaved flowers in the GM plots compared to fields with conventional oilseed rape.

"These differences were still present two years after the crop had been sown ... So we've got a significant biological difference that is carrying on from season to season," he said.

GM oilseed rape is genetically designed to be resistant to a weedkiller that would kill the non-GM crop. It means that farmers are free to use broader-spectrum herbicides.

The three previous farm-scale trials into crops investigated spring-sown oilseed rape, maize and beet. These showed that growing GM rape and GM beet did more harm to wildlife than their conventional counterparts.

"All of the evidence that we've got from the farm-scale evaluations points out that differences between the treatments are due to the herbicides. It's the nature of the chemicals and the timing at which the farming is done," Dr Firbank said.

Christopher Pollock, chairman of the scientific steering committee that oversaw the farm-scale trials, said: "What's good for the farmer is not always good for the natural populations of weeds, insects, birds and butterflies that share that space."

Farm-scale trials of GM crops are unique to Britain and represent the first time that scientists have evaluated the environmental impact of a new farming practice before it has been introduced, Professor Pollock said.


How many mistakes will be made .....

..... before it is realised that scientific knowledge of the environmental impact of nonindigenous plants and animals is essential, prior to introducing them?  When rabbits, deer, goats, pigs and possum were introduced into New Zealand's 'edge ecology' in the 19th century, nobody had a clue about the pestilence that would occur.   When stoats were introduced to control rabbits, it was not foreseen that they would flourish, to become the most harmful predator of the world's greatest collection of flightless birds. Again today, the introduction of foreign GM organisms is being allowed, in ignorance of their impact on natural ecosystems.

Act to keep New Zealand
      GE FREE

Consumers have the power to
reject GE food products .......

New Zealand's food retailers would do well to follow the example of the British retail chain Co-Op, which found from a survey that 80% of its customers would not purchase food containing genetically modified ingredients. Co-Op has banned GM products throughout its entire business.
See Co-op goes GM-free
BBC NEWS  21 October 2003

The two retail food suppliers that control all New Zealand supermarkets could decide to be GM free, if a majority of customers refuse to shop in stores carrying GM products.

Progressive Enterprises Limited, which is owned by one of Australia's largest public companies Foodlands Associated Ltd, operate Woolworths, Price Chopper, Foodtown, Countdown, FreshChoice and SuperValue supermarkets.

Foodstuffs is New Zealand's largest grocery distributor, and the country's third largest business.  It controls all Pak'N Save, New World, Four Square and Write Price stores.  Foodstuffs announced on November 6 2003 that its Pam's food brand will go GE-free.

Let your food supplier know your view on GM:

Ted van Arkel, Managing Director
Progressive Enterprises Limited
80 Favona Road, Mangere, Auckland
Phone 09 275 2788
Email: ted.vanarkel@progressive.co.nz

Melissa Hodd, Executive Manager
Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd
Private Bag 5401, Lambton Quay, Wellington
Phone 04 472 6435  Fax 04 472 6412
Email: melissa@foodstuffsnz.co.nz

Photo Credit
Above top: Wheat field and Richmond Range, Nelson, permission of Virtual New Zealand
View larger image
Above: Wheat, Ian Britton, Copyright © FreeFoto.com

Organic food contaminated with GM
"Many so-called organic foods contain genetically modified soya"
Nature, Science Update  6 February 2004
This should be the end for GM
"The Government asked us to heed the science on genetic modification. Will it now take its own advice?"  Guardian Unlimited  19 October 2003
Study links GE crops to environmental damage
"British scientists have delivered a massive blow to the case for genetically engineered crops by showing in a trail-blazing study that growing them could harm the environment"
NEW ZEALAND HERALD  17 October 2003
Monsanto shuts UK cereal business
after GM setback

"Monsanto, the world's largest genetically modified seed company, is to close its European cereal business headquarters"
The Guardian  16 October 2003
Biopharming reaps fear
"A mysterious farmer at a secret location somewhere in northeastern Colorado is expected to plant a corn crop that must never be eaten by humans or animals, must never come in contact with other crops, and is so volatile, a 1-mile buffer must surround it to prevent pollen from contaminating other crops"
DENVER POST  28 September 2003
Most Britons 'oppose GM crops'
"More than half of Britons who took part in a nationwide debate on genetically modified crops said they should never be introduced under any circumstances"
BBC NEWS  24 September 2003
Euro vote ends GM food ban
"Laws which will end a European Union-wide ban on new genetically modified foods have been passed by the European Parliament.  The laws allow new GM foods to be sold in Europe for the first time in five years, but only if they are clearly labelled"
BBC NEWS  2 July 2003
Bush: Africa hostage to GM fears
"US President George Bush has accused Europe of blocking efforts to fight famine in Africa because of "unfounded" fears over genetically modified foods"
BBC NEWS  22 May 2003
Prodigene woes
"Biopharm firm faces USDA, FDA actions over corn contamination"
Chemical & Engineering News  25 Nov 2002
Famine and the GM debate
"Amid the efforts to cope with a famine threatening 30 million Africans, a row is raging over genetically modified (GM) food aid"
BBC NEWS  14 November 2002

The four tests:

Test 1  Spring-sown oilseed rape, October 2003
Nationwide tests found that biotech oilseed rape sown in the spring could be more harmful to many groups of wildlife than their conventional equivalent.  There were fewer butterflies among modified crops, due to there being less weeds.  Verdict: GM fails.

Test 2  Sugar beet, October 2003
The GM crop was found to be potentially more harmful to its environment than crops that were unmodified.  Bees and butterflies were recorded more frequently around conventional crops, due to greater numbers of weeds.  Verdict: GM fails.

Test 3  Maize, October 2003
The production of biotech maize was shown to be kinder to other plants and animals compared to conventional crops. More weeds grew around the biotech maize crops, attracting more butterflies, bees and weed seeds.  Verdict: GM passes, but critics brand study as flawed.

Test 4  Winter-sown oilseed rape, March 2005
Tests showed that fields sown with the biotech crop had fewer broad-leaved weeds growing in them.  This impacted on the numbers of bees and butterflies, which feed on such weeds.
Verdict: GM fails.

This article first appeared in The Independent, 22 March 2005 Copyright © The Independent

Copyright © 2004-2005 TerraNature Trust. All rights reserved.

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