HC Deb 28 July 2000 vol 354 cc949-50W
Jackie Ballard

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what variables are to be measured in the assessment of GM farms trials; and how the criteria for judging success in relation to a particular GM crop will be measured against those variables. [126632]

Mr. Meacher

The objective of the evaluations is to test the null hypothesis that there are no significant differences between the biodiversity associated with the management of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops and comparable non-GM crops at the farm scale. In practice, the variation in biodiversity can not be recorded for all species. The approach is to compare key indicators of biodiversity between the GM HT and non-GM HT cropping systems. In reporting these effects, they will be placed into the context of national recording schemes that can help to show the relationships between the biodiversity associated with the study sites and arable areas in general.

The indicators being measured are: soil seed bank; arable plant diversity, biomass and estimated seed return; field margin and boundary vegetation, noting species in flower and signs of spray drift; Gastropods (slugs and snails) abundance, activity and diversity measures; Arthropods on vegetation, concentrating on plant bugs (Heteroptera), spring tails (Collembola), and the caterpillars of butterflies, moths, (Lepidoptera) and sawflies; diversity and biomass measures; Carabid beetles and other ground dwellings arthropods; abundance and diversity measures; bees and butterflies; observational studies; birds and small mammals, observational studies.

The study is limiting the number of confounding factors by using a split-field design and controlling for all the variables except the herbicide treatment. After the first year the studies will continue in the subsequent follow-on conventional crops. Further details of the study and monitoring protocols have been published by the research consortium in two interim reports. These are available on the DETR website and copies have been placed in the Library.

When sufficient data sets are available the null hypothesis will be tested separately for each indicator. The data will then reveal whether or not there are any statistically significant differences in biodiversity arising from the two cropping regimes. The independent Scientific Steering Committee is over-seeing the evaluations to ensure appropriate scientific rigor of the evaluations. The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment will consider the outcome of the evaluations, assess the implications for the environment and advise Ministers. A sub-group of ACRE is currently considering the criteria which are appropriate for such assessments.

In addition, there are studies to monitor geneflow. These are monitoring the extent of cross pollination with neighbouring sexually compatible crops for the oil seed rape and maize, both of which will flower and produce pollen, and, in the case of rape, the formation of hybrids with wild relatives.