GM Free Cymru

GM Maize Trials involved "cynical scientific fraud"

PRESS RELEASE from GM Free Cymru: 7th OCTOBER 2003

The watchdog group GM Free Cymru has discovered that the farm-scale trials of GM maize which have been going on for the last three years have involved deliberate scientific fraud on the part of the Government. This effectively means that the monitoring work done by Government-appointed scientists has been "a complete waste of time."

This discovery brings into question the Government's real intentions in planning the FSE programme, and comes at an embarrassing time -- just a few days before the results of the FSE environmental monitoring programme are due to be published by the Royal Society (1).

It has been widely leaked (2) that the "all clear" for growing GM maize will be based on the finding by ecologists that the plots of land growing GM maize harboured more wildlife than adjacent plots growing conventional maize.  However, it is known that the conventional maize plots were sprayed with Atrazine, a very dangerous herbicide which is highly toxic to insects and other animals at the lower end of the food chain. On the other hand, the GM maize plots were sprayed with the herbicide Liberty (glufosinate ammonium) just once between planting and harvest, which gave weeds and insects an opportunity to thrive.

Observers of the trials discovered that farmers were not allowed to follow their normal farming practices and instincts with respect to the spraying regime, leading to suspicions that the trials were effectively "fixed" in order to maximise weed growth and insect populations on the GM plots.

Ian Panton, a spokesman for GM Free Cymru, said "The trials give no guidance whatsoever as to the likely effects of growing GM maize commercially in the UK. For a start, the Atrazine used on the non-GM fields for comparison is so dangerous that its use will shortly be discontinued. it is already on the "banned" list in France and other countries.  Other herbicides will be used on non-GM maize in the future. So we are no further forward in knowing what the "baseline" ecological effects of growing conventional maize are.

"Additionally, in America, unmixed Liberty is seldom used with GM maize plantings.  Instead, the manufacturer's recommended herbicide, used by some 75% of growers, is Liberty ATZ, in which the proportion of atrazine is 32%. According to Prof Mike Owen of Iowa State university, the actual percentage of atrazine used by farmers is closer to 90%.  If this herbicide mix was ever licenced for use in the UK it would have a much more dramatic effect on wildlife than the FSE programme suggests (3). The field trial results have been manipulated.  They are utterly worthless and should be dismissed out of hand."

GM Free Cymru also says that it was obvious by the year 2000 that Liberty used on its own was not satisfactory either for the control of "immune" weeds in GM maize fields or as a broad-spectrum herbocide; and yet, in the full knowledge that farmers would not use it as the sole herbicide in British commercial GM crop plantings, the Government approved its use in the FSE programme (4).

GM Free Cymru says that this disgraceful situation was highlighted by the BBC Newsnight programme in June 2002, and was also reported in The Times newspaper, but the concerns raised by the media and by Friends of the Earth at that time were simply brushed aside by the Government (5) (6) (7) (8).   Finally, GM Free Cymru says that because no yield measurements were made during the GM maize trials, the design of the experiments was fundamentally flawed, and the management of the crops was far removed from the real world situation. Observers of the trials noted that in many cases the GM crops were stunted and badly affected by weeds, and that yields appeared to be much lower than in the conventional maize plots (9).

"There is no way that the growers of commercial GM maize would accept a significant yield penalty just in order to enjoy an increase in the numbers of beetles and butterflies on their land," says Mr Panton. "Again, this confirms that the GM maize trials have been a waste of everybody's time. It would be an act of gross irresponsibility and negligence should the Government seek to authorise the commercialisation of GM maize on the basis of this cynical and dishonest science." (10)


Further info Dr Brian John 01239-820470 Tom Latter (mobile) 07831 582 718


1.  See GM crops: the farm-scale evaluations results: The results of the GM crop farm-scale evaluations will be published on 16 October and will be freely available for all to see on that day. For details of how the results can be obtained see </environment/gm/fse>. This includes details of a free public meeting on 16 October at which the research team and scientific steering committee will present the findings.

2. Government prepares to back down over GM crops Exclusive by Severin Carrell and Geoffrey Lean 05 October 2003 INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

3. The spread of glufosinate-resistant weeds is a growing problem likely to make the use of Liberty ATZ almost essential in areas where GM maize has been grown for several years. American researchers have documented the emergence since 1996 of heritable glufosinate-resistance in ryegrass,goosegrass, horsetail and waterhemp in areas of high glufosinate (Liberty) use.  See this:

Transcript from Newsnight Programme (see note (6) below): Susan Watts: "Michael Owen says this combination has now displaced the original environmentally friendly option for Liberty corn growers."  prof Mike Owen:  "The majority of the farmers see the advantage of having the atrazine included in the pre-packaged mix. I don't know the exact percentage, but I'd say it is easily more than 75%, probably closer to 90%."

NB. The French Government has ordered the removal of all triazene-based chemicals, including the popular weed killer atrazine, from the market by the end of September 2002, and the removal of these ingredients from other products by 30 June 2003. Philip Clarke, Farmers Weekly Interactive, 28 Sep 2001

4.  The marketing and packaging materials for Liberty ATZ say that it is specifically for use on Bayer Cropscience GM maize. The Aventis Liberty ATZ Data Sheet was printed on 12/03/2001, ie before the commencement of the GM maize trials within the British FSE programme.  Therefore it must be concluded that Aventis/Bayer knew prior to 2001 that Liberty would be mixed with ATZ for commercial plantings, but still applied for the use of unmixed Liberty in the FSE trials.  Advised by its own scientific committees, the Government acceded to this request, although the Secretary of State must have known that in doing this he was personally involved in "a scientific confidence trick."

5. Article in The Times, 26th June 2002

6. Transcript of BBC 2 - Newsnight - Tuesday 25th June on Atrazine use on GM Maize at: In the Newsnight report, 25th June 2002, agricultural experts revealed that between 75% and 90% of US GM maize growers were using a product called Liberty Atz - a mixture of Aventis' weed killer GA and Atrazine, the traditional herbicide used on maize crops. Atrazine has been a problem pesticide for decades, and washes readily into rivers and groundwater. It is an EU Red List pesticide and is on the EU Priority List for hormone  disrupting effects in animals.

7.  See also:  The Death of Science  UK Farming Establishment Knowingly Supports Unscientific GM Trials  Blair Increasingly Isolated As BBC Blows The GM Whistle

8.  Check out the FoE report on the FSEs

9.  Evidence collected by FoE Swindon

10.  The Government cannot claim ignorance of the herbicide regime used in the GM maize trials.  The maize trials were jointly managed by the Government and SCIMAC, and DETR was also involved in the award of contracts for the conduct of the trials.  The Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) recommended the sites to be used for the FSE programme, and DETR provided administrative support. DETR was involved in drawing up the experimental design to be used by the researchers, and was closely involved in  all aspects of the FSE programme, including the provision of information posted on the web. The Government also provided the secretariat for ACRE, which advised on the consents for GM releases into the environment.  Officials knew what was going on, and did nothing.

NB  After four years of "Liberty Link" weed control trials with Liberty and Liberty ATZ in  Texas, the researchers found very poor weed control with Liberty.  They reported in 2000: "In general, Liberty should not be used as a stand alone treatment." (Texas Agricultural extension Service, Result Demonstration report "Weed Control in Liberty Link Corn, 1996-1999" by Brent Bean and Matt Rowland.)   This advice was known to Aventis / Bayer, and it must also have been known to ACRE, ACP and SSC, and to DETR staff.  They all chose to disregard this advice and to allow the use of unmixed Liberty (GA) in the maize FSE programme, knowing that this would render the FSE results worthless.