Researchers place dollar value on GM contamination
ED WHITE / The Western Producer 14nov02
WINNIPEG - Some bags of conventional certified canola seed contain more than five percent genetically modified, herbicide tolerant traits, two University of Manitoba researchers say.
And almost no certified seed they examined in a small study was free of GM contamination, said weed specialist Rene Van Acker and pesticide specialist Lyle Friesen.
That means that over time canola growers may develop large seedbeds of herbicide resistant volunteer canola. And if Roundup Ready wheat was introduced with today's certified seed standards, zero-till farmers could end up with a $400 million annual problem, they said during a university seminar.
Van Acker and Friesen tested 31 bags of conventional canola and found only one that did not contain genetic material from GM canola. Over half the samples had more than 0.25 percent GM herbicide resistant traits, and some had three to five percent contamination. Over time that kind of contamination could spread thousands of herbicide resistant plants across a quarter section, all unknown to the grower. It would also produce a lot of herbicide tolerant pollen that could drift to other fields.
Van Acker said he thinks the GM contamination may be coming from plant breeders who distribute seed to seed growers for commercial multiplication.
"(Seed growers) may be building a vicious circle on their own farm, but unaware of it, despite their best efforts," said Van Acker in an interview.
Commercial farmers probably don't realize the conventional canola they are buying can contain GM material in small amounts, Friesen said.
"I think that most farmers think that if you're growing a non-Roundup Ready variety, it will be conventional," said Friesen.
If this amount of GM canola can be found in certified canola seed, then some would probably also appear in certified wheat if Roundup Ready wheat was approved, the researchers said, unless seed regulations were strengthened.
They projected a potential problem, if glyphosate-tolerant wheat was widely grown, of volunteer herbicide resistant wheat that could cost zero-till farmers $400 million per year across the prairies to clean up with chemicals. The zero-till system relies on glyphosate to control weeds.
Manitoba Agriculture weed specialist Todd Andrews said the researchers' projections about potential problems in canola and wheat are possibly valid, but they need to be backed up by field studies.
"Even though all the numbers looked plausible, because we haven't seen that number of cases in the field it's time to take the theory and do some field tests."
Andrews said there were a small number of high-profile cases of Roundup Ready volunteers becoming a problem in fields in the Red River valley in 2001, but it was not an epidemic. In 2002, "I didn't have a single call about Roundup Ready canola being a problem."
Andrews acknowledged that zero-till farmers may be tank-mixing other herbicides with glyphosate to counter the threat of glyphosate tolerant volunteer canola.
[ mindfully.org note: And finally, Monsanto reached the usual conclusion that any research done by any party other than Monsanto is flawed, and therefore, must be worthless. However, if one examines the published research--almost any study of GMOs--funded by Monsanto, one's conclusion will be diametrically opposed to that of Monsanto. ]
Monsanto Canada spokesperson Trish Jordan said her company doesn't agree with Van Acker's and Friesen's conclusions. And it doesn't believe their brief study proves much.
"We don't agree with all of the assumptions and some of the modelling that has been put into that," said Jordan.
She also said theoretical models need field testing.
Gene flow in wheat is very rare and unlikely to be a problem, she said.
If you have come to this page from an outside location click here to get back to mindfully.org