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New reports highlight need to consider environmental impacts of changes to farming practices

Defra : 17 March, 2006  (Company News)
The wider environmental impacts of changes to the way that crops are grown are considered in two new reports published today. The studies follow up the Farm Scale Evaluations programme which examined the environmental effect of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops.
Today's report by the independent Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment considers the future development and regulation of new agricultural technology and practices.

Defra has also published a report that puts the FSE results in the wider context of other GM crop trials that have been undertaken, both in the UK and abroad. The report also considers the broader changes that have taken place in UK arable farming over the past century, especially its intensification over the last 50 years and the associated decline in such species as farmland birds.

The Defra-funded review highlights various issues for consideration, including:

the importance of maintaining biodiversity within arable fields, and the balance between effective weed control on the one hand and levels of biodiversity on the other;
the need for agreed standards by which to judge the impact of GM crops or other changes in arable production on the farmed environment.
Environment Minister Elliot Morley said:

'Changes in farming practice have impacted on biodiversity, but it is clear that farmers are increasingly aware of the wider environmental effect of their work. Environmental conditions linked to CAP payments as well as the strong take up of environmental stewardship schemes, with 1.7m hectares of English countryside under environmentally friendly management, will have a positive impact on farmland wildlife.

'The GM trials gave a real insight into how weed control regimes, in both conventional and GM crops, can affect biodiversity within fields. This raises a general question about the environmental impact of changes in arable farming.'

'I would like to thank ACRE for their contribution to this debate. This is an important topic and both of today's reports will help us to consider it further, by putting the FSE results in the broader context of the long term changes that have already taken place in UK agriculture.'

Other work is also in progress that directly addresses the wider point raised by the FSE results of the environmental impact of changes in crop production (whether conventional or GM). Defra is funding a research project that aims to set out a detailed framework for assessing potential indirect effects on the farmland environment of novel crops or cultivation practices. The outcome of this project will further contribute to Defra's policy thinking in this area.
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