So you dont know much about transgenic crops? The FACTT project wants to help you. Gilly Johnson reports.
GIVE out the facts on GMOs – and let the industry decide for itself. This is the brief behind the FACTT project – a new European initiative which spans six countries and 21 organisations.
The acronym derives from the aim of the project: to promote Familiarisation with, and Acceptance of, Crops incorporating Transgenic Technology in modern agriculture.
However, about half of the £3m bill for the four-year FACTT programme is being paid by Plant Genetic Systems (PGS) and parent company AgrEvo, commercial partners with a vested interest in the acceptance of transgenic crops. The rest is coming from the EU budget.
The fact that a large chunk of FACTTs funding comes from commercial biotech sources will not go unnoticed by the general public. It could potentially have adverse implications on FACTTs public reception, said Dr Paul Meakin of the HGCA, the body which is co-ordinating FACTT in the UK.
"But it must be understood that under the strict rules of EU funding, no commercial or marketing promotion is allowed within the FACTT scheme," he explains. Wider commercial affiliation is being sought.
One of the first events on the UK FACTT programme was a GMO day at NIAB, Cambridge.
Rape growers, breeders and trade representatives were given a tour of GMO hybrid and herbicide-resistant rape trials, and an explanation of the issues involved.
It was clear that the growers present were concerned not with the political arguments, but with the practicalities of growing GMO crops.
Alan Bide, consultant with Hampshire Arable Systems, makes the point that unless they prove more profitable than conventional crops, then growers "wouldnt bother with GMOs".
Initial calculations looking at the economics of GMO herbicide-resistant rape show that savings of up to £40/ha are possible, but this figure does not include a higher seed price, said Dr Elaine Booth of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC).
Other potential problems are the prospect of herbicide-resistant rape volunteers and even "resistance stacking", where different herbicide resistance genes are brought together in weeds or volunteers.
Such weeds might be difficult to control, and rotations need to be planned carefully, said Dr Booth.
"But it would be a practical, rather than an environmental problem. Just because they are transgenic, would not mean these volunteers were more persistent or more invasive."
Dr Meakin put the case for HGCAs involvement with FACTT. "We are striving to maintain the competitiveness of UK agriculture – and if we dont go down the GMO route, UK growers risk being at a disadvantage. We need to get the message across."