Gene crops may help endangered birds -UK study
Wednesday January 15, 10:57 am ET
By Corinne Amoo

LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Gene-modified crops may help to bring back endangered wildlife such as skylarks and finches, British scientists said on Wednesday. Their research, partly funded by biotechnology giant Monsanto (NYSE:MON - News), suggests that applications of herbicides to gene crop rows rather than the land between them meant insects and weeds could flourish, so providing more food for birds.

"Frequent spraying destroys the weeds on which the insects and birds feed, but our system means we can reduce the amount of spraying and allow weeds between the rows to flourish in summer without affecting yield," said John Pidgeon, who headed the research.

Broom's Barn research station in Suffolk headed trials with herbicide tolerant GM beet at various sites in 1999 and 2000.

Pidgeon said the research was the first to show the environmental benefits of herbicide tolerant GM crops. But conservation groups questioned his conclusions.

The UK Soil Association said similar experiments in North America showed commercial farmers did not use gene crops in the specific way researchers envisaged and so the supposed benefits did not materialise.

"If farmers wait before spraying the herbicide this will give weeds more time to grow, which means more food for the wildlife, but waiting means they will not gain the 10 percent yield gain," the association's Gundala Azeez said.

"Most farmers are going to try and increase yield and therefore this over-use of herbicides will endanger wildlife even more," she added.

The Royal Society and Protection of Birds (RSPB) also had reservations.

"I think it is a novel and interesting technique they are using, but our main concern is that the actual suggestion is not supported by the facts of the research," RSPB spokesman Darren Moorcroft said.

A report on the research has been published by the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences.