GMO Plants establish in the wild

By Richard BlackEnvironment correspondent, BBC News
6 August 2010

April: David Suzuki has been speaking out about this issue for years. Eventually “volunteer” GM plants will become part of the wild environment. Because the majority of them are Roundup Ready, meaning they can be sprayed with pesticides and survive, weed management will carry a new set of problems. Weed control on roadsides will cost more. It’s simple. And who will bear this cost? The taxpayer, likely. Not Monsanto. Dr. Suzuki has stated for years, that should Terminator plants spread into our forests and begin to destroy natural plants, who is responsible (to pay) for the damage? How can you even begin to control and eradicate the damage? Here in BC, we have been privy to the Japanese pine beetle, a small insect that bores into pine trees and kills them. We have not been able to manage the forests and keep up with the problem, so we now have millions of acres of dead forests and a logging industry that took the hit. We need to stop and think about the ramifications of GM plants and their technology in the wild environment. It has been proven, time and time again, that GM genes do indeed transfer to non-GM species. These stray GM plants also travel for miles, and move into Organic and non-GM fields, quietly altering the DNA of every crop. While it may appear fine and dandy for farmers to make higher yields, somewhere, somehow, there will be a price to pay. Look beyond the obvious: this is what we are fighting for. We see the future, and it’s not pretty…

Researchers in the US have found new evidence that genetically
modified crop plants can survive and thrive in the wild, possibly for

A University of Arkansas team surveyed countryside in North Dakota for
canola. Transgenes were present in 80% of the wild canola plants they

They suggest GM traits may help the plants survive weedkillers in the

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Ecological
Society of America in Pittsburgh.

Over time, the build-up of different types of herbicide resistance in
feral canola and closely related weeds could make it more difficult to
manage these plants.

Professor Alison Snow, Ohio State University:
“We just drew 11 lines that crossed the state [of North Dakota] –
highways and other roads,” related research team leader Cindy Sagers.

“We drove along them, we made 604 stops in a total distance of over
3,000 miles (5,000km). We found canola in 46% of the locations; and
80% of them contained at least one transgene.”

In some places, the plants were packed as closely together as they are
in farmers’ fields.

“We found herbicide resistant canola in roadsides, waste places, ball
parks, grocery stores, gas stations and cemeteries,” they related in
their Ecological Society presentation.

The majority of canola grown in North Dakota has been genetically
modified to make it resistant to proprietary herbicides, with
Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready and Bayer’s LibertyLink the favoured
varieties. These accounted for most of the plants found in the wild.

Two of the plants analysed contained both transgenes, indicating that they had cross-pollinated.

This is thought to be the first time that communities of GM plants
have been identified growing in the wild in the US.

Similar findings have been made in Canada, while in Japan, a study in 2008 found substantial amounts of transgenic rape – a close relative
of canola – around port areas where GM varieties had been imported.

What surprised the Arkansas team was how ubiquitous the GM varieties
were in the wild.

“We found the highest densities of plants near agricultural fields and
along major freeways,” Professor Sagers told BBC News.

“But we were also finding plants in the middle of nowhere – and
there’s a lot of nowhere in North Dakota.”

The GM seeds seem to be competitive, allowing a plant community to
survive. Canola seeds are especially prone to dispersal, through blowing in the wind or through falling from trucks, as the seeds weigh just a few
thousandths of a gram.

Professor Alison Snow, an authority on gene flow from Ohio State
University who was not involved in the research, said that authorities
had anticipated the existence of GM “volunteers” – plants growing in
the wild outside fields – but did not consider it a problem.

“Regulatory agencies in the US have acknowledged that volunteer
populations of GM, herbicide-resistant canola are expected to occur,
as well as populations of inter-specific hybrids,” she told BBC News.

“Over time, however, the build-up of different types of herbicide
resistance in feral canola and closely related weeds, like field
mustard, could make it more difficult to manage these plants using

US policy is not to place a GM crop under any special regulatory
regime unless there is a demonstrable difference between it and its conventional equivalent. The varieties in use here were deregulated in 1988 and 1989.

This is very different from the regime that has existed for a decade
in the European Union.

But the European Commission recently recommended that nations should
now be allowed to make their own decisions on whether to allow the
crops or not, once they have passed health and environmental impact
assessments at EU level.

Authorizations at EU level have been issued for GM potatoes, sugar
beet, soya bean, oilseed rape, cotton and maize products.
Genetically modified canola escapes farm fields

SUMMARY: “What we’ve demonstrated in this study is a large scale
escape of a genetically modified crop in the United States,” says
Cindy Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas, who led the
study. “Few scientists believe that the canola plants pose an
environmental risk, but the study highlights the ease with which some
genetically modified plants can spread beyond their fields.”

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN)
Collaborative Campaigning for Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice
431 Gilmour Street, Second Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K2P 0R5
Phone: 613 241 2267 ext.6
Fax: 613 241 2506

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