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Data demands ERMA reconsider ‘science' of onions


New Data prompts demand for ERMA to reconsider ‘science’ of GE onions

There are renewed demands for ERMA to review its approval of a trial of GE onions to take into account significant new data that was not included in the original decision.

The new information on herbicide use associated with GE crops cast doubt on the claimed benefits of the crops and the rationale for undertaking the GE onion experiments in New Zealand at all. The new information was submitted to ERMA for re assessment before the decision on Genetically engineered onions was formally notified, but it has emerged the new information was not incorporated into the decision.

“The ERMA process cannot work if it ignores new information central to an approval. The new data demands ERMA make a reassessment and any failure to do so would be the death-knell for ERMA’s credibility,” says Claire Bleakley from GE Free NZ in food and environment.

Last week the UK Guardian Newspaper published the findings from the US study as part of a similar debate to that in New Zealand about the claimed benefits and need for GE crops.

US scientists led by Dr Charles Benbrook assessed GE crop chemical usage (herbicide and pesticide) in comparison with non-GE crops. They found that the claimed, reductions in agrochemical use on GM crops were only temporary.

After a few years GM crops have led to substantially greater use of herbicides than non-GM crops, with significant year on year increases, particularly for GM soya and maize.

"How can ERMA justify its approval of the GE Onions when this data has not been considered. This is a case of not just ignoring public sentiment but now ignoring the scientific data itself." says Claire Bleakley from GE Free New Zealand in Food and Environment.

“The longer we wait for ERMA to agree to a reassessment, the less confidence the public can have the system is working. ERMA can’t have it both ways: if they claim to make decisions based on science, they cannot turn a blind eye to science when it risks revealing their decision is flawed,” says Ms. Bleakley.

References: 1 )

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1118170,00.html

2) Soil Association Summary on the Impacts of GM Crops on Agrochemical use in the US This is a summary of a paper by Dr Charles Benbrook. It confirms theconclusions of our report Seeds of Doubt (September 2002) about GM herbicide tolerant (HT) crops resulting in increased dependency on herbicides and shows that herbicide use on GM maize and soya has increased dramatically in the US in recent years. This completely undermines the recent claims the biotechnology companies have been making about reduced herbicide use on GM crops and the positive findings of the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) about GM HT maize.

Summary

* In the US, reductions in agrochemical use on GM crops were only temporary. After a few years GM crops have led to a substantially greater use ofherbicides than non-GM crops with significant year on year increasesparticularly for GM soya and maize.

* In 2001, 5% more agrochemicals (herbicides and insecticides) were sprayed than if non-GM varieties only had been grown; in 2002 7.9% more was sprayed; and in 2003 an estimated 11.5% more was sprayed. In total, 73 millionpounds more agrochemicals were sprayed in the US during 2001-2003 as aresult of GM crops.

* Chart 5 is very striking showing the year on year percentage increase in agrochemicals used in the US as a result of GM crops: from the maximumreduction of 3.2% in 1997, to a small net increase in 1999 of 0.7%, to the increase of 7.9% in 2002 and preliminary estimated increase of 11.5% in2003.

* The data shows that during 2002-03, an average of 29% more herbicide was applied per acre on GM HT maize than non-GM maize and an average of 46% more herbicides was applied per acre to GM HT soya than non-GM during 2001-2003.

* This is the first study of agrochemical use on GM crops which looks at the most recent impacts (since 2002). It is in agreement with USDA estimates for earlier years. The only other estimates have been from a pro-GMorganisation, which did not correlate with US Department of Agriculture(USDA) data and were not based on su! ch recent data.

Quotes from the report

* "Proponents of biotechnology claim that GE varieties substantially reduce pesticide use. While true in the first few years of widespread planting it is clearly not the case now"

* "There is now clear evidence that the average pounds of herbicides applied per acre planted to herbicide tolerant (HT) varieties have increasedcompared to the first few years of adoption ... Herbicide tolerant crops have increased pesticide use an estimated 70 million pounds over the last eight years,"

* "Changes in herbicide use now need to be monitored over full crop rotation cycles, not just in the years when a field is planted to an HT variety." [Only the first year was monitored in the FSEs.]

* "The efficacy of HT technology is now seriously threatened by weed shifts and resistance. Herbicide use and costs are bound to rise for theforeseeable future."

General points

* This paper was produced 25 November 2003 by Dr Charles Benbrook,agronomist and Director of the Northwest Science and Envionmental Policy Center.

* Benbrook CM (2003) Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on PesticideUse in the United States: The First Eight Years, BioTech InfoNet, TechnicalPaper No 6, Nov 2003,

http://www.biotech-info.net/technicalpaper6.html

* It analyses agrochemical (herbicide and insecticide) use over eight years(1996-2003) on the three main GM herbicide tolerant (HT) crops in the US(soya, maize and cotton) and the two main GM Bt crops (maize and cotton).

* The figures for 2003 are preliminary as final USDA data is not yetavailable

* The current % of total crop acreages which are GM in 2002 in the US are as follows. 75% of soya was GM (all HT). 9% of the maize was HT, 22% was Bt and 2% was 'stacked' with both traits (34% was GM in total). 71% of The cotton acreage was GM. (The figures for 2003 are all higher but onlyestimates are available at the moment).

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1118170,00.html

GM crops linked to rise in pesticide use John Vidal Thursday January 8, 2004 The Guardian Eight years of planting genetically modified maize, cotton and soya Beans in the USA has significantly increased the amount of herbicides andpesticides used, according to a US report which could influence the British government over whether to let GM crops be grown.


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