Is GM food good or bad? Rather than just debating the question, Britain decided to conduct a large, three-year study. Now they’ve announced that two of the three GM crops grown experimentally, oil seed rape and sugar beet, are more harmful to the environment than conventional crops. Growing these GM crops damages plant and insect life.

The third crop, GM corn, allows the survival of more weeds and insects and therefore may be approved. This was the largest study of GM crops in the world and the results have been a closely guarded secret until now. Paul Brown writes in The Guardian that this will be a major setback to biotech companies that are trying to convince the U.K. and Europe to grow GM crops.

The results of the study, when published, will include eight peer-reviewed papers about the effect of growing GM crops and using their accompanying herbicides on the plants and animals in the fields, as well as those in nearby fields. More GM crops could not be planted during the trial period.

The number of weed species and various types of spiders, ground beetles, butterflies, moths and bees in fields of GM crops and the adjacent conventional crop fields were counted to see if there were large differences. All the fields were treated with herbicides to kill weeds but special types of herbicide made by Monsanto and Bayer were used on the GM crops.

In GM sugar beet and oil seed rape, there were significantly fewer different kinds of weeds and insects, but the opposite happened in the corn fields. This is probably because conventional corn fields are sprayed with atrazine, which kills weeds as they germinate and is more powerful than the herbicides developed for GM corn.

Another problem is contamination of conventional fields by seed from GM crop fields. The U.K. is suggesting that a compensation plan funded by the biotech firms be put in place for farmers growing conventional and organic crops, in case their crops become unsaleable. The biotech companies are completely against this.

Even a very sophisticated culture can end very suddenly.

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