As part of our human practices, we communicated with several different stakeholders and professionals to assess whether they thought that our project was a good idea, and obtained the opinions of each stakeholder about our project and genetic modification of crops in general. Compiling the discussions with Tony Shaw (Welsh Beekeepers Association, WBKA president) and Jonathan Harrington (an agronomist), led us to bioinformatically analyse any foreseeable effects that our RNAi constructs could have on bees and aphid predators alike. More details of these results can be seen on our bioinformatics page. This page serves to highlight who we communicated with, and what their views were.
Our meeting with agronomist Jonathan Harrington provided us with information of the current pest controls widely used across the UK, including those used by some of the farmers that he advises. He discussed with us the current chemical sprays commonly used; in particular these were Neonicotinoids and Synthetic pyrethroids. It takes only 5 maize seeds treated with the Neonicotinoid spray to kill a single grey partridge, says Professor David Gouson, of Sussex University(1). These are used in the UK on oil seed rape. Their toxins can remain in the soil for up to a year, or for even longer periods of time if used on the same areas repeatedly. This year the EU banned the use of 3 neonicotinoids - but is this enough?
An article in New Scientist has highlighted the depth of research into the effects this type of pesticide has on bumble bees. The toxic residues make their way from the field into hives and have an impact on the number of new queen bees. This leads to reductions in egg cell numbers within beehives(2). Synthetic pyrethroids show great resistance by pests against their anti-feeding mechanism and are also seen to be degraded by light, lowering their efficiency.
We were surprised to find that 90-95% of winter cereals are sprayed with chemical pesticides, confirmed by a representative of NIAB and Norfolk's regional agronomist, Stephen Keach. This is mostly due to a huge price reduction in recent years caused by the massive growth in the pesticide market. This has multiplied to accommodate the expansion in global agriculture which has developed to meet the food supply demands of an ever increasing worldwide population.
During our discussion, Jonathan indicated that the aims of our project, to replace chemical pesticide use, would avoid wiping out populations of beneficial insects such as the carabid beetle. Current sprays wipe out these insects giving rise to other pest populations. He also saw no ethical reasons why farmers would be opposed to using a GM crop in the field - the only barrier being cost comparison against current methods. This is confirmed by a survey by Farmers Weekly, where 61% of the participating farmers favoured growing GM crops on their land(3). Agriculture is a booming economic business, and perhaps it would be beneficial to increase taxation on chemical sprays in an effort to conserve the environment.
Welsh Environment Minister
As part of our survey we explored the cohort’s knowledge on current EU laws surrounding GM crops and their opinions on potential changes following Brexit negotiations. Currently there is a solid legal framework followed by EU countries under the commission directive of 2018 that aims to protect all residing populations of humans and animals, requiring safety assessment at EU level prior to a GMO being available to enter the market(4). Alongside this, clear labelling is essential to enable all consumers and businesses to be aware of what they are buying.
The UK’s legislation on GM crops aims to protect the environment and people. At present this allows the importation of GMOs but does not allow them to be legally grown. According to the Huffington post, “30 million tonnes of GM animal feed is thought to be imported into Europe each year to feed pigs, poultry, dairy and beef cattle, as well as farmed fish. The UK imports an estimated 140,000 tonnes of GM soy bean and as much as 300,000 tonnes of GM maize annually for use as animal feed”(5). So, with a country so reliant in GMOs as imports, why not allow GMO use in the UK's agricultural industry? With recent Brexit negotiations, much speculation around these current laws has come to light in the media. One article stated that if post Brexit, the UK is offered the chance to take more advantage of GMOs, projecting Brexit will “flood” the country with American GMOs(6).
We looked to find a clear answer as to whether Wales would alter the current restrictions upon the growing of GMOs. Hannah Blythyn, the Welsh Environment Minister told us the restrictions will remain the same. But we remain optimistic for future change as she believes an open mind should be kept on GM developments. Her correspondence is detailed in the PDF below, or it can be downloaded here.
We plan to meet with the Welsh Government's Plant Health team, under Hannah Blythyn's orders to discuss our project and GMOs in Wales.
Welsh Beekeepers’ Association
Contacting the Welsh Bee Keeper’s Association was very beneficial in gaining a clear understanding of the relationship between aphids and honey bees, as well as the great effect current pesticides have upon bumblebee populations. Bee harming pesticides are found in 75% of honey worldwide(7) and a newly developed pesticide, Sulfoxaflor (used in 47 countries worldwide), is currently under review for licencing in the UK. It is likely to be a replacement to the current Neonics, yet it poses a great threat to bee populations; one experiment saw a reduction in the new generation population of 54%(8). It is great to see developments to remove the current toxic and harmful pesticides, but we believe this should not be with another chemical pesticide that will not protect beneficial populations, such as bumblebees, but may still cause harm.
The WBKA saw great opportunity in our correspondence and decided to support our study. They were also eager to demonstrate their capacity to help other universities and students in research. To help with this we have produced an article about our project, and their support, which will be published in their next quarterly magazine.
(1) - Gardenorganic.org.uk. (2018). Neonicotinoids | www.gardenorganic.org.uk. [online] Available at: https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/neonicotinoids [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(2) - Wong, S. (2018). Strongest evidence yet that neonicotinoids are killing bees. [online] New Scientist. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2139197-strongest-evidence-yet-that-neonicotinoids-are-killing-bees/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(3) - Gmfreeme.org. (2018). GM polls in the UK. [online] Available at: https://www.gmfreeme.org/gm-polls-in-the-uk/ [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(4) - Food Safety. (2018). GMO legislation - Food Safety - European Commission. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/legislation_en [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(5) - Wasley, A. (2018). Revealed: How Genetically Modified Food Is Finding Its Way Onto Your Dinner Plate. [online] HuffPost UK. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/andrew-wasley/genetically-modified-food_b_4794557.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvLnVrLw&guce_referrer_cs=Yhmcz_hHNTtLCCbgg74SkA [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(6) - Hart, R. (2017). Brexit will flood the UK with genetic-modified American food - and it's about time too. [online] politics.co.uk. Available at: http://www.politics.co.uk/comment-analysis/2017/02/02/don-t-fear-genetic-modified-american-food-it-s-perfectly-saf [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(7) - Sheridan, K. (2017). Bee-harming pesticides in 75 percent of honey worldwide: study. [online] Phys.org. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-bee-harming-pesticides-percent-honey-worldwide.html [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].
(8) - Brooker, M. (2018). Farming News - New generation of pesticides can reduce bumblebee reproduction. [online] Farming.co.uk. Available at: https://www.farming.co.uk/news/new-generation-of-pesticides-can-reduce-bumblebee-reproduction [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].