Study could delay GM crops until 2010

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday March 5, 2004
The Guardian

The case for commercial GM maize in Britain has been thrown into doubt by a
study into the environmental benefits of growing the crop.
The government's long-awaited decision on GM crops will be announced next
week. According to leaked cabinet minutes obtained by the Guardian,
ministers are ready to give the green light to GM maize after trials showed
that cultivating the crop did not damage the environment as much as
conventional crops.

During the trials, GM maize was compared with conventional crops treated
with an extremely aggressive herbicide called atrazine that is due to be
banned in the next 18 months.

But Joe Perry at the Rothamsted Institute and a consortium of scientists
involved in the government's GM crop trials have now analysed new data from
the trials to see what effect alter natives to atrazine will have. They
found that alternatives were much better for the environment than atrazine.

"After atrazine and similar herbicides are banned, we predict that the
environmental benefit of GM maize relative to conventional maize will drop,
but it won't be negated," said Professor Perry, whose study appears in the
journal Nature.

But Pete Riley of Friends of the Earth said he was sceptical of the results:
"The truth is that the GM maize trials were flawed and cannot be used to
justify the commercial development of GM crops."

Peter Ainsworth, chairman of the Commons environmental audit committee,
said: "It doesn't provide any greater justification for the
commercialisation of GM maize." In a report published today, the committee
is expected to call for a new trial , potentially delaying introduction of
GM crops until the end of the decade.

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