English Nature renews call for delay in release of insect-resistant crops.

England's conservation agency, English Nature, has renewed calls for a full programme of fieldscale tests before the decision to grow genetically modified (GM) crops commercially to asses potential effects on biodiversity. The call follows the publication of US research in the science journal Nature showing that toxins in GM insect-resistant (GMIR) crops may kill butterflies (see related story).

The US research shows that pollen from GMIR crops is toxic to monarch butterfly caterpillars. The monarch is a relatively common butterfly of farmland in the US and feeds on weeds within the crops. There is already concern about the effects of GM herbicide-tolerant crops on monarch butterflies because these crops allow complete weed removal, leaving no food for larvae.

It is highly likely that similar GM crops would cause similar effects on butterfly and other larvae on UK farmland. Moreover, butterflies are an extremely good indicator of the health of our countryside. “Butterflies are an indicator of how well we are looking after the countryside. Some species are very fussy, needing a rich mix of grassland, woodland or heathland plants for their caterpillars and an abundance of nectar flowers for the adults,” said Roger Key, English Nature’s butterfly specialist.

Dr Brian Johnson, English Nature’s GMO specialist said: “This new research confirms the views put forward by English Nature last year, that there are serious concerns about the commercial introduction of GM crops before research has been done on their potential effects on biodiversity. UK conservation agencies have been warning the regulatory committees for over two years that GM crops may damage wildlife if they are planted commercially. We believe that any new farming system should be thoroughly tested for its effects on wildlife before commercial release is contemplated.”

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