Farmscale GM crop studies announced

Three contracts to study the effects on wildlife of Genetically Modified (GM) crops have been announced by UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

The contracts to conduct the farmscale evaluations were awarded to a consortium led by the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.

The primary objective of the tests is to study how the management of GM herbicide tolerant maize, spring oilseed rape and winter oilseed rape might affect wildlife compared to the management of their non-GM equivalents.

“The evaluations, which will take four years, will ensure that the managed development of the introduction of genetically modified crops announced at the House of Lords European Communities Sub-Committee last October, will take place safely,” Meacher assured the UK Parliament.

“The evaluation programme will help address the concerns which have been raised by English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We need to get reliable evidence to help us decide whether the management of GM herbicide tolerant crops could have the potential to accelerate the decline in farmland wildlife which has taken place over the last 50 years.

“The research will not only address issues relating to GM crops. This is an extremely important opportunity to contribute towards a more detailed understanding of the effects of agricultural management practices on farmland wildlife generally,” he said.

The cost of the research contracts will be £1.1 million for each crop. Funding comes wholly from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and The Scottish Office.

The industry body SCIMAC (Supply Chain Initiative for Modified Agricultural Crops), is providing the seed for the crops and helping to locate suitable farms.

The progress of the research will be monitored by an independent steering committee of experts which will report to the Secretary of State. The Steering group is currently being set up and will include experts from English Nature and the RSPB.

Meanwhile, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury named a team of experts who will support him on a fact-finding mission to examine the growth of clusters of biotechnology companies and institutions in the UK.

Lord Sainsbury said:”We must work hard to make sure that Britain’s biotechnology industry stays ahead of our rivals. Biotechnology offers enormous potential, both in terms of improving our quality of life and for the future of the UK economy. The European market alone may be worth up to £100 billion by 2005.

“We have an excellent science base in this country. Clusters provide the ideal environment for business people, investors and the scientific community to work closely together – and I want to see how we can encourage the conditions to allow them to flourish.

“I am delighted that key experts in the field are joining me on this important initiative. We will be looking at clusters which are strong in biotechnology to identify factors which make them successful; looking for any barriers to their further development; and considering what needs to be done, by Government and others, to ensure that biotechnology clusters in the UK continue to flourish. In doing so I want us to build on the DTI’s current activities to promote regional biotechnology initiatives”.

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