Scientists urge close scrutiny of GM crops' impact
By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent
(Filed: 27/05/2003)

The ecological impact of genetically modified crops must be closely
monitored in the long term if commercial planting goes ahead in Britain,
the country's leading science academy warned the Government today.

The Royal Society issued the warning in a submission to the GM Science
Review, one of three investigations set up by the Government to assess
whether to introduce commercial cultivation of GM crops.

The Society did not say who should pay for the monitoring process, which
could add to costs for farmers growing GM crops that already fetch a
lower market price than non-GM varieties.

Prof Patrick Bateson, vice-president and biological secretary of the
Society, said: "We advised the Government almost five years ago that it
needed to carry out a review of the way in which the environmental
impact of GM crops is monitored in the long term, but it still hasn't
taken the necessary action.

"If the decision is taken to allow commercial planting of GM crops, it
is essential that regulators in the UK and EU monitor the environmental
impact to pick up any potentially beneficial or harmful effects over a
long period. It will not be enough to make best estimates at the start
and then assume that everything will turn out as expected."

The Society also said that the GM Science Review panel should be given
the opportunity to consider formally the results of the GM Farm Scale

The review, led by Prof David King, the Government's chief scientist,
has been widely criticised for insisting on reporting next month or in
July, two or three months before the results of the farm scale trials
are likely to be published in the scientific journal Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Science.

The four-year field assessment of the impact of commercial scale
planting of GM crops on bio-diversity is the largest and most extensive
project of its type undertaken.

Its results, which are likely to heavily influence the Government's
decision on whether to license herbicide resistant GM maize, sugar beet
and oil seed rape, will inform the Government's own scientific review.

Prof Bateson said it would make sense for the review panel to look at
the results of the farm scale trials and "make recommendations to
Government in the light of this research".