Following a 3-year investigation by the British government into the effects of genetically modified (GM) crops on the environment, British scientists found that 2 of the 3 crops tested have a harmful effect on wildlife. But the test results are not clear enough to help Britain decide whether it should use GM agriculture. This report from Richard Black:
The trials investigated three crops: oilseed rape, sugar beet and maize. With each crop, scientists compared conventional varieties against plants which had been genetically modified to make them resistant to a specific modern herbicide. The scientists found that with rape and beet, GM fields contained fewer weeds and insects, including bees and butterflies; whereas with maize, GM fields contained more weeds and insects. Farmers of course want fewer weeds - but conservationists want to protect natural plants and insects.
The trials are an emotive issue in Britain and the government has issued a cautious response, saying it will take further advice before making policy. But the trials leave a number of environmental questions unanswered. Although they're being presented as comparing GM crops with conventional varieties, in fact they're comparing different herbicides - the modern ones used on GM fields against the older chemicals used on non-GM varieties - and one of those older chemicals, atrazine, has just been banned by the EU. The trials didn't study the impact of genes moving from GM plants into the environment. However the results are interpreted in Britain, the scientists emphasise that they don't automatically apply to other crops and other countries; but they suggest this kind of trial is a model other nations might use in evaluating whether to introduce GM crops.
series of tests that last for a set amount of time or are done a set number of times
carefully looked at all the details
something conventional is normal because it’s been used or made for a long time
a chemical that’s used to destroy plants, particularly weeds
GM (genetically modified)
a genetically modified field or crop has been physically altered and grown by changing its genes. Genes are biological material from living cells which carry and pass information about how people and things look and develop
official plans and guidelines
no longer allowed
understood or analyzed
deciding on the importance, quality and value of something based on its good and bad features