GM rape persists in Swedish trial

GM rape persists in Swedish trial

Seeds from some genetically modified crops can endure in soil for at least 10 years. That’s the finding of Swedish scientists who examined a field, originally planted with experimental oilseed rape a decade ago, and found transgenic specimens were still growing there.
The survival of the rape was despite intensive efforts in the intervening years to remove seeds. It is thought that no other GM crop has been found to endure so long and critics say it shows that genetically modified organisms will not be contained once released.

Presenting their findings in the journal Biology Letters, the researchers note that after the trial of herbicide-resistant GM rape, the Swedish Board of Agriculture sprayed the field intensively with herbicides that should have killed all the remaining plants.
Following the herbicides, inspectors looked specifically for volunteer plants and killed and removed them. This is much more effort than would usually be deployed on a commercial farmer’s field. But even so, 15 plants had sprung up 10 years later carrying the genes that scientists had originally inserted into their experimental rape variety to make them resistant to the herbicide glufosinate.

Non-GM varieties were used in the 10-year-old study as well, and some of these had also survived. “I wouldn’t say that the transgenic varieties are able to survive better,” says research leader Dr Tina D’Hertefeldt. “It’s just that oilseed rape is a tough plant.”

The UK – along with many other EU partners – has yet to implement legislation on the thorny issue of how fields of genetically modified crops could co-exist with others that farmers – including organic producers – are keen to keep free of transgenic material.
Two years ago, the UK government published a consultation paper (which refers to England only) which included proposals on issues such as minimum distances between fields growing biotech and conventional varieties, compensation for contamination, and the labelling of GM foods.
Along with other stakeholders The Organic Research Centre commented that the proposed framework is too weak, particularly because GM farmers would not be liable for the wider environmental impacts of the crops they grow.


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