GM: A solution or bio-pollution?
The introduction of herbicides to post-war agriculture
in the Stour Valley must have seemed revolutionary to farmers. Nowadays,
genetically modified crops may seem a little futuristic to farmers and
wildlife organisations in this area. However, genetically modified crops
tolerant to herbicides may be here in the Stour Valley sooner than we
might anticipate. Scientists from ACRE (Advisory Committee on Releases to
the Environment) have recently been advising Margaret Beckett DEFRA
secretary (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) about GM
crop production in the UK. Three contenders for GM (genetic modification)
to make them tolerant to herbicides are maize, oil-seed rape and beet
crops, which are grown in the south of England; maize and oil-seed rape
are present in the Stour Valley. Farm scale trials of maize took place
last year in the UK, the results published last autumn were inconclusive
but warned that if oil-seed rape and beet were grown in the same way as
maize there could be ‘adverse environmental effects’.
The farming press has shown a luke-warm response to the
farm-scale trials, acknowledging that GM crops could affect populations of
farmland birds, which the UK government has committed to protect. If
farm-scale trials eventually find a ‘safe’ way of growing GM herbicide
tolerant crops these could eventually be cultivated in the Stour Valley.
This could have far reaching implications for our farmland birds and
organic farming in the area.
The RSPB and the Soil Association have expressed concern
about the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as many
farmland bird species rely on seeds from weeds to survive. In the future,
with fewer or no weeds left in fields containing GM crops, further
declines in skylark, corn bunting, tree sparrow and yellowhammer may
occur. The present known decline in these species has been recorded as a
result of long term agricultural intensification without the additional
input of genetic alterations to plants natural make-up.
There are still many questions to be addressed about
genetic modification. Studies into the long-term effects on wildlife,
human health and the effect on organic farming (an industry that is vital
to both the rural economy and the environment), are still in progress.
Indeed, further studies, trials and debate need to take place before
consumers, farmers, the UK government and politicians in Europe decide the
future of our farmland and our wildlife associated with it.
To keep up to date with the GM debate in Kent visit: www.kent.gov.uk
under Kent’s Big Issues- GM nation? The Public Debate
Rosemary Hoare, Ashford Green Corridor Officer