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Designed to Mislead: Inaccurate “coexistence” survey won’t help Government

Immediate release (22 Jan 2013)

Calls to: Pete Riley 07903 341065; Peter Lundgren 07751 112 303

A postal survey sent to English farmers by the Centre for Agricultural Strategy at Reading University [1] gives inaccurate and misleading information about coexistence of GM and conventional oilseed rape and should be abandoned, GM Freeze said today.

GM Freeze analysed the information and guidance provided to farmers in the survey and accompanying letter. [2] The documents, which give no information about who is funding the survey, say it is “designed to explore the feasibility and costs of a number of potential coexistence measures to help inform the decisions of policy makers”. Similar questionnaires have been sent to farmers in the Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Romania and Spain, but is unclear if it has been sent to farmers throughout the United Kingdom. The Governments in Wales and Scotland are opposed to GM crops.

GM Freeze is critical of the survey because it uses inaccurate and misleading information, omits other information and asks farmers to respond to unrealistic scenarios.

Examples of inaccurate information include stating that:

  • GM oilseed rape could be available for planting in the UK in 2015 when the only applications on the table were rejected in the UK in 2004 following the field scale evaluations that showed potential harm to fragile wildlife.
  • GM oilseed rape that repels insects could be available by 2015 when no authorisation applications for such varieties exist.

Examples of omitted information include:

  • The potential impact of GM oilseed rape on the willingness of beekeepers to place hives in or near GM crops and the potential loss of yield if these services are withdrawn.
  • The impacts arising from the need to protect non-GM certified seed producers and farmers who save their own seeds from GM contamination.
  • The need to adopt strategies to prevent the development of weed resistance in herbicide tolerant GM crops.
  • The costs associated with the above.

The scenarios farmers are asked to comment on make a series of unrealistic assumptions including that:

  • The temporal separation of sowing dates by up to four weeks to prevent synchronised flowering of GM and non-GM crops will not involve a yield penalty for the farmer planting last.
  • Only two parties will be involved in resolving coexistence issues when three is more than possible.
  • GM crops always have the higher output when field evidence does not support this.
  • Agreeing separation distances between crops, temporal separation of sowing and compensation and liability will be straight-forward.

Lincolnshire farmer Peter Lundgren said:

This survey is riddled with weaknesses, which means the information gained from farmers will be of little value to those trying to work out if the coexistence of GM crops can be made to work. My contacts in North America suggest that preventing pollen and seed movement by natural means will be impossible. The addition of human frailty into this equation leads me to conclude that GM oilseed rape contamination will be impossible to prevent.

My market for oilseed rape demands a non-GM product, and I prefer to listen to my customers rather than GM proponents. The fact that I won’t be able to insure against contamination and the costs and social disruptions caused by the pursuit of my neighbours through the courts leads me to conclude that GM oilseed rape should not be licensed.

Pete Riley of GM Freeze commented:

We were very surprised by both the lack of transparency about who commissioned this research and the very basic factual errors in the information farmers received. The survey should be abandoned because the data it will produce will not provide a reliable enough basis upon which to base policy.

The possibility of coexistence of GM and non-GM crops is still unresolved. Our legal advice is that EU law requires measures to avoid contamination of neighbouring crops, but this survey aims only to “minimise” contamination. This means that even small areas of GM oilseed rape could create problems for neighbours and beekeepers wishing to remain GM free.

The scenarios presented in the survey are unrealistic, and based on the experience of US farmers growing GM crops it present a false picture of the coexistence problem. If the solution is for neighbours to delay planting to accommodate a GM crop, who will decide who plants first? Will the loss of output be fully compensated, and who decides how much? What happens to ‘coexistence’ plans if the later crop catches up with the earlier one because the weather changes? It is hard to see a fair means to deal with such disputes, and the best solution would be to deny GM oilseed rape approval in the first place.

ENDs

 

Notes

1. Copies of the survey and covering letter available upon request.

2. GM Freeze, 22 January 2013. Designed to Mislead – Reading University Survey on GM Coexistence