Membership of GM scientific committee announced

The UK Government announced membership of a new scientific steering committee to oversee the ecological studies on farmscale evaluations of genetically modified (GM) crops on May 25.

The UK Government had announced its intention to establish a steering committee in April. The DETR says the members of the committee are independent of the biotech industry and the research contractors undertaking the ecological studies.

The primary objective of the farmscale evaluations 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 new committee will be headed by Professor Christopher Pollock, Research Director of the Institute of Environmental and Grassland Research.

Members of the steering committee are:

Professor Mick Crawley from Imperial College; Dr David Gibbons, Head of Conservation Science at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Dr Nick Sotherton, Director of Research for the Game

Conservancy Trust; Dr Nicholas Aebischer, Director of Biometrics at the Game Conservancy Trust; Mr Rob Kempton, Director of Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland; and Dr Alistair Burn of English Nature.

Announcing the membership, Environment Minister Michael Meacher said: “I believe that we have appointed some of the UK’s leading scientists in the field of farmland ecology and conservation to advise us on the farmscale evaluations. The establishment of this steering committee will ensure that managed development of GM crops in the UK is underpinned by sound science.”

The scientific steering committee will oversee ecological research research over the next four years.

The committee will advise on experimental design, the statistical analysis for the results obtained, and on any interpretations of the results which can be made. The research contractors, a consortium of research institutes led by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, have already started work on the farms where the crops are being grown. They will report on the progress made at the first meeting of the steering committee on 14 June.

This year the farm scale evaluations for spring oilseed rape has been planted at three locations: Lushill Farm, Hannington, Highworth, Swindon, Wilts; Model Farm, Shirburn, Watlington, Oxfordshire; and Advanta Seeds UK Ltd, Boothby Graffoe, Lincolnshire.

The maize has been planted at four locations: Walnut Tree Farm, Lyng, Norwich, Norfolk; Home Farm, Spitle-in-the-Street, Glentham, Lincolnshire; Little Park Farm, Mortimer, Reading, Berkshire; and Rothamsted Farm, Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

Both GM crops have been modified to be herbicide tolerant; neither is insect resistant, nor contain the Bt gene.

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