Letter: GM food? No, thanks

Sir: Amid the current concern about the safety of food derived from genetically engineered organisms, we should not forget potential environmental effects of this new technology.

Over the past quarter-century, there have been massive declines in the populations of farmland birds in Britain. The causes of these declines are various but centre on ever-increasing intensification of farming methods, driven by the financial environment in which farmers have to operate.

Genetically engineered crops could produce higher yields without damaging wildlife if the technology is used with care; but used indiscriminately they could result in considerable further damage.

Evidence from the US, for example, shows that the use of herbicide-resistant crops results in herbicides being applied to such an extent that weeds, already reduced to tiny numbers by conventional methods, are almost totally eliminated. These weeds and their seeds provide the living for what little wildlife remains on farmland.

Government agencies, such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Ministry of Agriculture, have funded much of the research into farmland bird declines. As a result, both the present government and its predecessor has been able to formulate well-founded policies for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy aimed at benefiting the environment, as well as agriculture and rural communities. It is therefore particularly unfortunate that there is little, if any, research in progress into the environmental impact of genetically engineered crops. Are we once again going to let the agricultural horse bolt from its stable before we discover how to lock the door?

Dr J J D GREENWOOD

Director

British Trust for Ornithology

Thetford, Norfolk

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