GM crop escapes into the American wild
2.GM crop escapes into the American wild - Nature
EXTRACTS: The scientists behind the discovery say this highlights a lack of proper monitoring and control of GM crops in the United States. (item 2)
"The extent of the escape is unprecedented," says Cynthia Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who led the research team that found the canola (Brassica napus, also known as rapeseed). (item 2)
"We found herbicide resistant canola in roadsides, waste places, ball parks, grocery stores, gas stations and cemeteries." (item 1)
"...we were also finding plants in the middle of nowhere - and there's a lot of nowhere in North Dakota." (item 1)
"They also found some plants that were resistant to both herbicides, showing that the different GM plants had bred to produce a plant with a new trait that did not exist anywhere else." (item 2)
"The regulatory protocols designed to reduce or prevent escape and proliferation of feral transgenic crops are ineffective. Current tracking and monitoring of GM organisms are insufficient," she says. Sagers blames the delay in discovering escaped populations of transgenic plants in the United States largely on the lack of funding for research in this area. (item 2)
1.GM plants 'established in the wild'
Richard Black Environment correspondent
BBC News, 6 August 2010
Researchers in the US have found new evidence that genetically modified crop plants can survive and thrive in the wild, possibly for decades.
A University of Arkansas team surveyed countryside in North Dakota for canola. Transgenes were present in 80% of the wild canola plants they found.
They suggest GM traits may help the plants survive weedkillers in the wild.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Pittsburgh.
"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."
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 herbicides."
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.
Authorisations at EU level have been issued for GM potatoes, sugar beet, soya bean, oilseed rape, cotton and maize products.
2.GM crop escapes into the American wild
Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2010.393, 6 August 2010
*Transgenic canola found growing freely in North Dakota.
A genetically modified (GM) crop has been found thriving in the wild for the first time in the United States. Transgenic canola is growing freely in parts of North Dakota, researchers told the Ecological Society of America conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, today.
The scientists behind the discovery say this highlights a lack of proper monitoring and control of GM crops in the United States.
US farmers have dramatically increased their use of GM crops since the plants were introduced in the early 1990s. Last year, nearly half the world's transgenic crops were grown in US soil ”” Brazil, the world's second heaviest user, grew just 16%. GM crops have broken free from cultivated land in several countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan, but they have not previously been found in uncultivated land in the United States.
"The extent of the escape is unprecedented," says Cynthia Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who led the research team that found the canola (Brassica napus, also known as rapeseed).
Sagers and her team found two varieties of transgenic canola in the wild ”” one modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate), and one resistant to Bayer Crop Science's Liberty herbicide (gluphosinate). They also found some plants that were resistant to both herbicides, showing that the different GM plants had bred to produce a plant with a new trait that did not exist anywhere else.
Sagers says the previous discoveries in other countries of transgenic canola populations growing outside of cultivation were often in or near fields used for commercial transgenic canola production. By contrast, her research team found feral populations of herbicide-resistant canola growing along roads, near petrol stations and grocery stores, often at large distances from areas of agricultural production.
The researchers took samples of plants at 8-kilometre intervals along roads in North Dakota from 4 June to 23 July 2010. The number of B. napus plants in each sample plot was counted, and one plant was collected and tested for the presence of proteins that could give it resistance to either of the herbicides.
The team found B. napus at nearly half of the 288 sites tested. Of these, 80% had at least one herbicide-resistant transgene (41% were resistant to Roundup and 40% resistant to Liberty). They also found two plants that contained both transgenes.
Sagers says the discovery of plants that are resistant to both herbicides shows that "these feral populations of canola have been part of the landscape for several generations". Further studies are needed to establish whether these escaped GM canola plants have any ecological consequences. But those that have evolved resistance to both herbicides could become a weed problem for farmers, adds Sagers.
"The regulatory protocols designed to reduce or prevent escape and proliferation of feral transgenic crops are ineffective. Current tracking and monitoring of GM organisms are insufficient," she says. Sagers blames the delay in discovering escaped populations of transgenic plants in the United States largely on the lack of funding for research in this area.
Tom Nickson, head of environmental policy at Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri, told Nature, "Those familiar with canola know that these plants are readily found on roadsides and in areas near farmers' fields. This was true prior to the introduction of GM canola, and a common source is seed that has scattered during harvest and fallen off a truck during transport."
Sagers agrees that feral populations could have become established after trucks carrying cultivated GM seeds spilled some of their load during transportation. She notes that the frequency and population density of GM canola that they found may be biased as they only sampled along roadsides.
Alison Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University in Columbus, says it is not surprising that escaped transgenic plants have now been found in the United States, given that this has already happened elsewhere. The escaped populations "could be a problem if you are worried about herbicide use", she says. A major advantages of herbicide-resistant crops is that non-selective herbicides can be used, reducing the number of applications needed. But if transgenic crops escape and breed with related weed species, then that advantage could be eroded, and different and more herbicides might have to be used.