NEW RESEARCH from the Broom’s Barn Research Station, Suffolk, has shown that GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beet can be managed to the benefit of the environment.

Previous work, including the government’s Farm Scale Evaluation trials, suggested that GM sugar beet, while providing environmental benefits early in the season, would reduce weed seed numbers in late season, depriving birds of autumn food sources.

The new research results, published in Proceedings B of the Royal Society, show that the single glyphosate applications can increase yields, and enhance weed seed production up to 16 fold compared with conventional systems.


 The new system is described by the authors as “extremely simple” compared with the previous GM management system, as it involves applying the first spray fairly early and omitting the second spray. This, they point out, also has the benefit of making additional cost and pesticide savings on top of what they described as “the already large savings compared to conventional practice”.

 The authors suggest that the legitimate concerns raised about indirect environmental effects of GM sugar beet on weeds, insects and birds can be resolved by regulation requiring these appropriate new management approaches.

“This work adds a new perspective to future discussions about obtaining the benefits from this specific GM crop that the public, environmentalists and farmers could all be interested to exploit to the benefit of the countryside,” said John Pidgeon, director of Broom’s Barn and one of the authors of the new study.

The research was funded in 2001 and 2002 by the Association of Biotechnology Companies.