CEFR Level C1 reading test 6 – The GM controversy


Test your Level C1 reading skills with this text. Read the article then answer the 5 questions that follow.

The GM controversy – is it worth it?

A Four genetically modified foods are currently being tested in the UK in the hope that they will be resistant to the most common herbicides. The aim is to create a crop which can be sprayed to kill everything around it, allowing more room and an easier harvest. Yet the project has been under heavy pressure, as it promotes the use of broad spectrum herbicides which have already been linked with the decline in farmland wildlife, a result of its highly efficient removal of weeds and a consequent decrease in food supplies for invertebrates and birds.

B In order to pacify the environmentalists, the experiment into herbicidal side effects will be run on four fields, all divided into two – one half growing the GM crop and the other half growing a non-GM variety – with numbers of insects, wild flowers and birds being compared in each half of the field. However, the GM crop will be grown for only one year and each trial field will be monitored for only a further two years. Farmland ecology is poorly understood and the wildlife in these fields will never have been studied before. Soil type is an important factor in determining what lives in the field, yet it may vary from one part of the field to another. Modern fields are often two or three older fields joined together, each of which may have a different history, soil structure and wildlife. Insect numbers vary naturally from one year to the next, so effects would have to be large, otherwise they would not be detected. Earthworms, fungi and bacteria are vital to the health of the soil, yet their numbers are not being monitored.

C Naturally, those who are opposed to the experiment claim that the effects of GM crops and their herbicides are likely to be subtle. It took many years for the devastating effects of DDT on birds to be realised and over 50 years for scientists to discover the damage caused to the ozone layer by CFCs, previously thought to be inert. Three years of limited studies is simply not long enough to say that GM crops are ‘safe’. DNA from GM crops may spread into the wider environment through the transfer of genetic material to soil microbes. DNA from GM sugar beet persists for up to two years in the soil. In laboratory experiments DNA from GM plants was taken up by both fungi and bacteria. Agricultural soils are often very mobile, so it is likely that soil contaminated by GM crops will spread to other fields. In addition, sugar beet seeds can remain in the ground, dormant but fertile, for at least 10 years, giving rise to GM sugar beet plants long after monitoring of the fields has stopped.

D GM contamination will affect livelihoods of other farmers, especially organic farmers, who will be unable to sell contaminated crops. Honey contaminated with GM pollen from last year’s crop trials has already been found. Beekeepers provide a vital service to fruit growers but will be forced to move their hives from areas near GM crop trials if they wish to avoid GM contamination, and this will affect land values.

E But perhaps the most persuasive reason to abandon GM food is that nature is already evolving beyond our advances in the field. GM insect-resistant crops are starting to become less effective, as the insect pests they were designed to resist rapidly develop tolerance. Similarly, weeds will develop herbicide tolerance as they are exposed to more of the same few herbicides, and as nature adapts to the new environment, another weakness of GM foods is exposed – it cannot change. By being manipulated and modified, GM crops have lost their ability to adapt as natural crops would, and are unable to cope with the environmental changes the planet is experiencing.

Questions 1-5. Match the headings below with a paragraph from the text above. Write i – viii in the boxes provided.

List of headings

I. Looking at the long term
II. The weaknesses of upcoming tests
III. Benefits to farming
IV. Subsidiary effects
V. Controversial experiments for easier farming
VI. GM food remains highly adaptable
VII. The flexibility of nature
VIII. The science of genetic modification

1. Paragraph A:
Show answerV

2. Paragraph B:
Show answerII

3. Paragraph C:
Show answerI

4. Paragraph D:
Show answerIV

5. Paragraph E:
Show answerVII

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