GeneWatch PR: GeneWatch UK Calls For A Halt On Growing Genetically Engineered Oilseed Rape

For Immediate Release – 12th June 1998

Plans to grow genetically engineered oilseed rape in the UK next year should be halted or the environment and farming will be put at risk through increased pesticide use, genetic pollution and uncontrollable weeds. These are the disturbing conclusions of a new report from GeneWatch, the independent organisation which monitors developments in genetic engineering.

The report, "Genetically Engineered Oilseed Rape: Agricultural Saviour or New Form of Pollution?", examines the proposal to grow genetically engineered oilseed rape commercially in the UK from 1999. It concludes that recent research casts serious doubts on previous safety assessments.

The oilseed rape varieties have been developed by the multinational agrochemical company, AgrEvo, and its subsidiary, Plant Genetic Systems, to be resistant to the herbicide, glufosinate. The companies claim that this will enable farmers to spray the crops with the herbicide to control weeds but without harming the oilseed rape itself.

However, the GeneWatch report argues that serious damage will be done to the environment and may affect human health. Its main findings are that:

  • The regulatory authorities have granted licences on the basis of research which is both out-dated and too limited in scope to guarantee safety. New evidence has emerged to suggest that the risks are greater than was originally believed.
  • Genetic pollution will occur through cross-pollination with traditionally grown crops and native flora.
  • Farmers are likely to experience complex, possibly unmanageable, problems with herbicide resistant weeds.
  • Herbicide use will be increased. One of the companies, AgrEvo, is also the manufacturer of the glufosinate herbicide and is expanding its production facilities to meet the expected demand.
  • Any increase in the use of herbicides will threaten wildlife and the countryside. It could also affect the health of farm workers and consumers through greater exposure.

"This report clearly demonstrates that we cannot afford to be complacent about genetically engineered crops," said GeneWatch Director and author of the report, Dr Sue Mayer. "Any damage which arises would be largely irreversible and further research is needed urgently to establish the extent of the risks and whether or not they can be controlled. Until then, the Government should rescind all licences and develop an effective framework for safety evaluation."

Dr Mayer is also concerned that genetically engineered crops and their products will not be segregated from conventional ones and that consumers will therefore be deprived of their right to reject them. "Many people are worried about the ethics of genetic engineering and its inherent risks to the environment and human health, yet the public has never been properly consulted. The UK Government should follow the example of the French and declare a moratorium on the commercial exploitation of genetically engineered crops until this has taken place. The UK should also announce its intention to close the loopholes in safety regulations at the EU Environment Ministers meeting tomorrow".

Copies of the report are available from GeneWatch, price £3.50 (£5.50 overseas).

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