Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Canola is first genetically altered crop to go wild

Canola engineered to resist weed killer has escaped farm fields and is growing wild on roadsides in North Dakota, where 92 percent of all U.S. canola is grown, reports Lindsey Konkel of Environmental Health News. Experts fear the phenomenon will create herbicide-resistant "super weeds" that farmers would have a hard time controlling. The plant might also infiltrate organic crops. (EHN photo: roadside canola)

Canola, once better known as rape or rapeseed, is largely used in animal feed and to make canola oil. Almost 80 percent of it is genetically altered. Of 288 roadside canola plants tested by University of Arkansas researchers, 231 contained altered DNA. It's the first evidence of altered crops escaping into the wild in the U.S., and they have even spread into Canada, surprising researcher Cynthia Sagers. She said most of the spread was caused by seed spilling off trucks hauling harvested seed to market.

Less than 1 percent of the studied plants were resistant to multiple herbicides, suggesting they have changed genetically in the wild. Seed industry representatives say such modifications are not a problem because crops and weeds have exchanged genes for millennia. But farmers and scientists worry that weeds that can resist several herbicides would increase the use of more toxic herbicides. In North Dakota, farmers alternate herbicides to keep modified canola problems low. Organic farmers, who can't use genetically modified plants and shun herbicides, may struggle to keep wild canola out of crops. They try to plant earlier or later than their neighbors to avoid cross-pollination. (Read more)

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