Part of the show How does the Nose Work ?
After a three years of farm-scale trials looking at the environmental impact of GM crops the results are finally out this week. These were the biggest trials carried out anywhere in the world, showing just how concerned the government are that they get enough information to make a decision about whether Britain should adopt the new technology. The trials were looking at three different crops, sugar beet, maize and oilseed rape- all of which had been genetically modified to be resistant to particular herbicides (chemicals that kill weeds). The idea behind the crops is that farmers will be able to treat fields less frequently with weedkillers, as the treatments will be more effective and only target the weeds without damaging the crops. This would save time and money, as well as reducing the amount of chemicals farmers are using in total. But the fields trials suggest that at least two out of the three GM crops, beet and oilseed rape, had a harmful impact on the environment in and around the fields where they were grown. This included a decrease in the number of bees and butterflies, as well as a reduction in the number of wild plant seeds available to feed animals like birds. But they did find more soil insects present in the fields sown with the GM beet and oilseed rape, which may be because herbicides were used less often. There was good news for fans of GM technology as well- GM maize was found to be better for wild plants, animals and insects than normal maize. It's important to point out that these effects on the local wildlife are nothing to do with the actual genetic modification of the plants, but more to do with the levels and types of weedkillers used by the farmers, as well as how often they treated their fields. The results are now going to the government committee responsible for regulating the new technology to see whether any of the crops will be approved for commercial use in the UK. The committee are still waiting for the results from one further trial of oilseed rape. A decision from this current crop of results is expected around December or early January, and if it's a yes then we could see some GM crops being grown in the UK within the next couple of years.