BRUSSELS (BELGIUM) / LONDON (UK) – Devastating new research published by the UK Government shows that pollen from genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape travels six times further than previously documented and if not controlled can contaminate non-GM crops for generations. Further findings indicate that some GM crops could make birds such as the skylark extinct within 20 years in the UK.

The announcement comes days before the results of some of the biggest and most controversial outdoor trials of GM crops are published on October 16th in London. [1] Media reports have speculated that those trials will show that GM oilseed rape and GM beet damage biodiversity.

The UK Government published on october 13 the results of four different projects which show that:

  • Bees can take oilseed rape pollen and pollinate with non-GM oilseed rape over a distance of 26 Km.
  • If wild GM oilseed rape is not “rigorously controlled” then contamination “would not fall below 1% for 16 years.”
  • Modelling indicates that the effects of introducing GM sugar beet could be “extremely severe, with a rapid decline, and extinction of the skylark within 20 years.”

The findings are likely to intensify the debate over proposals to allow GM contamination of conventional seed and the co-existence of GM, conventional and organic food production. European member states are due to vote on proposals to allow the contamination of seeds later this month.

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said:

“This research shows that allowing GM crops to be grown in Europe will be a recipe for disaster. Containing GM crops like oilseed rape is virtually impossible and will cause contamination for years to come. The co-existence between GM and conventional or organic farming is simply not possible. Furthermore the research shows that our wildlife is being put at an unnecessary risk with birds facing extinction. The public and the environment must come before the commercial interests of the biotech companies.”


Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe +49 1609 490 1163 (mobile)

Pete Riley Friends of the Earth In London +44 771 2843210 (mobile) or London press office +44 207 566 1649


[1] The Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) results will be presented at 10.30 (UK time) on Thursday 16th October and also published on the UK Government website.

The Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops were commissioned by the UK Government in 1999 following intense public hostility and concern from its own wildlife advisors about the effects of introducing GM herbicide-resistant traits. The crops trialed were Bayer’s oilseed rape, maize and fodder beet, and Monsanto’s sugar beet. All crops are modified to be resistant to the companies’ own herbicide. The biotech industry must legally forward the results of the trials to the European country where they have made an application to market the crop. For the oilseed rape and sugar beet this is Belgium, the fodder beet Denmark, the sugar beet also Germany and the maize France.

The trials were highly controversial creating anger throughout communities in the UK. In particular there was no obligation to protect neighbouring farmers or beekeepers from GM pollution or to listen to the views of local people. As a result the trials were unwelcome and many GM plants were uprooted by local people and campaigners. In addition Friends of the Earth discovered GM pollen in beehives 4.5km from a trial. Subsequently beekeepers had to move their hives 6 miles (9.6km) from FSE sites.

Earlier this year Friends of the Earth published a new report highlighting the problems in the design of the trials and accused them of being politically driven. (

The main findings of the report included:

  • Ecologically significant differences between GM and non-GM crops may be missed because the experiment does not have sufficient statistical power.
    Monitoring of important soil organisms was dropped because of money and time constraints. Similarly, rare arable plants were excluded because of time constraints.
  • Advice on the use of weed killer on the GM crops was given by the biotech companies who developed the technology, leading to concerns that the GM crops may have been managed to maximise biodiversity whilst ignoring the final yield.
  • Evidence that in the United States additional herbicides are used to achieve the required level of weed control in maize crops has been overlooked, meaning the maize results could be irrelevant.

Last week, several reports in the UK press highlighted possible outcomes of the British research programme. According to the daily newspaper the Guardian – which claims to have spoken to scientists involved – the research will show that GM oilseed rape and sugar beet damages the environment. The damage to biodiversity is so serious that the UK government is reportedly already considering a ban on GM oilseed rape and GM sugar beet.