4 December 1998

Its all on the Internet – if you can find it

USING the internet to glean information about genetically modified crops can be both rewarding and frustrating.

Much depends on your interpretation of what is likely to be found at the end of sometimes lengthy electronic searches.

If you do not know where to look key words entered into a search engine such as Yahoo are a good starting point. But even that exercise can be daunting. The entry "GM crops" recently turned up no fewer than 157,926 sites potentially worth visiting. "Crops + biotechnology" leads you quickly to the Ontario Corn Producers Association!

Having clicked on a page there are often other push-button links to exciting sounding pages. Unfortunately many fail to function or lead you to irrelevant subjects.

Clearly there are many useful sites, others less so, and a few downright costly in terms of phone bills, (unless you live in the US where local internet access calls are free).

Unsurprisingly entering "genetically modified crops" leads you straight to the Monsanto site. As well as expected articles on the benefits of herbicide tolerant crops you can find estimates, for example, of the latest area taken in the US and Canada by the firms NewLeaf Colorado beetle resistant potato.

Want to know in more detail about how GM crops are taking off on the other side of the pond? Try the APHIS site of the USDA.

Other key company web sites include those of AgrEvo, Novartis and Zeneca. Of these Novartiss appears most user-friendly offering the choice of text-only viewing to speed downloads. It includes a GM objections/responses section.

AgrEvo, concentrating on its Liberty Link technology includes a summary of field trials in Europe. A click on Zenecas products page, however, drew a blank. Pressure organisations with a particular interest in GM crops, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, both have attractive web sites. Greenpeace even provides draft protest letters to help viewers support its agenda.

The DETRs site is a useful port of call for anyone wanting full details of all experimental GM crop releases in the UK, including the ill-fated wheat plot at Cereals 98. It also includes the minutes of all meetings of ACRE, the body overseeing the exercise.

The UNs Food and Agriculture biotech site is disappointing, leading mainly to dry scientific material.

Plenty of interesting GM crop information is out there. But getting to it demands perseverance. &#42