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[SANET-MG] no c0o-existence
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMCANCEP.phpISIS Press Release 16/12/05
GM Contamination Accelerating
No Co-Existence Possible
Untried and untested GM crops are out of the bottle even in the UK where
no GM crops are commercially grown. Rhea Gala
A fully referenced version of this article is posted on ISIS members’
website. Details here
GM crops, the vast majority engineered for just two traits - herbicide
tolerance and Bt pesticide, or stacked with both - have been released on
five continents for up to nine years, causing widespread contamination
of food, feed, seed and the environment across the globe.
Genetically modified DNA from any part of a GM plant can enter the
environment unobserved, for example, through pollen transfer to a
conventional crop, through seed dispersal or plant decomposition and
persistence in soil ecology. The toxins encoded in the DNA also kill
wildlife and contaminate soil and water, as do herbicides such as
glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium that are an essential component of
the herbicide tolerant crop system.
Outcrossing between a GM crop plant and a wild relative and over
dependence of the GM crop on herbicides to which the crop is tolerant,
are causing a wave of “superweeds” to emerge in the US and elsewhere;
the UK has reported a potential candidate earlier this year.
UK’s herbicide tolerant weed hybrids
The UK government reported genetically modified herbicide tolerant
(GMHT) hybrid weed seedlings at field trial sites earlier this year. One
was a cross between Bayer’s GMHT oilseed rape (Brassica napus) and its
distant relative the common arable weed, charlock (Sinapis arvensis),
and two were hybrids of Brassica napus and B. rapa.
The findings, which were not announced, were nevertheless widely
reported and somewhat exaggerated in the press  because many
politicians and government scientists had repeatedly downplayed the
possibility of GM gene transfer to wild relatives, the emergence of GM
superweeds, or any other adverse effects of GM crops. For example, in
2000 the EU Environment agency concluded, “ There appears to be general
agreement that natural gene flow is not likely to occur between B. napus
and S. arvensis”. The EU has an industry-sponsored forward plan for
‘coexistence’ in European countries for GM, conventional and organic
crops to 2025 (“Beware the New Biotech Eurovision” SiS 24).
The report to DEFRA from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Dorset,
found that , “The commercial growing of genetically modified,
herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape is seen to result in the potential for
the inserted gene to escape from the crop and become incorporated in the
genomes of one or more related wild crucifer species, potentially giving
a competitive advantage to the recipients.”
The “virtually impossible” already happened
The emergence of two GMHT B. napus and B. rapa hybrids was inevitable as
B. rapa is a parent of the commercial variety B. napus and spontaneous
hybrids are well known to occur. Although the two plants generally do
not share the same distribution, B. rapa may be overlooked because of
its similarity to feral oilseed rape. The finding of these hybrids and
the GMHT charlock hybrid show that the difficulties of coexistence
between GM and conventional crops will be insuperable. Despite that, the
authors still concluded, “The risks of transfer of herbicide tolerance
to wild relatives of oilseed rape appear to be minimal.” But Dr Brian
Johnson, an ecological geneticist and head of the Biotech Advisory Unit
at English Nature, said that the charlock superweed would be fertile
through its pollen to neighbouring plants ; and that charlock seeds
can remain in the soil for 20 to 30 years before they germinate.
Huge problems of cross-contamination and herbicide resistance have
arisen in countries like Canada and the US (see for example “GM sugar
beet turned sour”, SiS 25; “Roundup Ready sudden death”, SiS28).
Herbicide tolerant volunteers
Herbicide tolerant volunteers were found in the two years following the
Farm Scale Evaluations, and they tend to persist, requiring control with
toxic herbicides other than glufosinate ammonium. The authors thought
that volunteers may pose a greater risk for gene flow of the bar gene
into the environment, than hybridization with wild relatives, especially
if the same gene construct is introduced into other crop species. They
also pointed out that these problems “highlight implications for the EU
threshold limits of GM content in oilseed rape crops set at 0.1 percent,
0.3 percent and 0.9 percent for organic seed, certified seed and food &
feed, respectively” .
GM contamination lasts at least 15 years in soil
The BRIGHT report  on a study in the UK begun in 1998 with funding
from Monsanto, Bayer CropScience, BASF, and Agrovista UK Ltd, among
others, tried to underplay problems to wildlife from GM crops; but found
that when HTGM sugar beet followed HTGM winter oilseed rape, additional
herbicides were needed to control volunteer rape.
There were also problems with crossbreeding between herbicide tolerant
varieties of rape, producing seeds resistant to more than one herbicide,
and making management of minimal herbicide regimes very tricky even for
The authors of BRIGHT have since looked further into the problem of
persistence of GM seeds in seedbanks in a new study on the population
dynamics of volunteer rape, Brassica napus, comparing two GMHT winter
oilseed rape cultivars and two conventional cultivars .
They found that seed remaining in the field after harvest averaged 3 575
seeds per square metre but ranged from less than 2 000 up to more than
10 000 seeds. There was a rapid decline in seed number during the first
few months after harvest; a mean loss of 60 percent of seeds thought to
be removed by wildlife. But in subsequent seasons, the seedbank declined
much more slowly at four of the five sites, at about 20 percent per
year. The models predicted a 95 percent seed loss after approximately
nine years, resulting in nearly 200 seeds per square metre, which would
give rise to at least two HT rape volunteers nine years after the
original crop was sown. This predicts the emergence of an average of one
plant per square metre after 15 years.
Although there was no difference between the four cultivars in either
the number of seeds shed at harvest or in their subsequent persistence,
the importance of the persistence of GM rape seeds, simply in the
context of the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops is a clear cause for
concern. The researchers concluded that the density of more than two
volunteers per square metre would exceed the European Union threshold of
0.9 percent adventitious presence of GM seeds in a non-GM crop, if the
subsequent crop were conventional.
These results come in the same week as DEFRA’s report showing that the
harmful effects on wildlife from GMHT crops in the Farm Scale
Evaluations (see “GM crop fails final test” SiS 26) persist for at least
two years . Results showed that weed seedbanks following GMHT spring
oilseed rape were significantly lower than following conventional crops
over this period as was the case with winter oilseed rape . Seedbanks
following GMHT beet were also smaller providing empirical evidence for
longer-term effects of GMHT cropping on farmland biodiversity .
Seedbanks for GMHT maize were higher than conventional, mostly probably
due to the use of the now banned herbicide atrazine on the conventional
Illegal contamination with GM material
These cases of environmental contamination with GM material have been
detected in the UK where there is as yet no commercial planting of GM
crops; emphasising that contamination in countries such as Canada, the
US and Argentina - where GM monocultures are becoming, or are already
the norm – is far more extensive (“Soya disaster in Latin America”, SiS28).
Though hardly reported in the mainstream press, well over 60 incidents
of illegal or unlabelled GM contamination have been documented in 27
countries on five continents; eight of which occurred in the UK. And
those are only the recorded incidents . The worst single
contamination incident was of StarLink Maize, a GM variety approved only
for animal feed which entered the human food chain in seven countries,
the US, Canada, Egypt, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Japan and South Korea.
Moreover GM DNA is in the European human food chain via GM animal feed
(“DNA in food and feed” SiS 23), but milk and meat are not labelled as
such, and are considered safe by the UK Food Standards Agency.
Recent GM contamination in Europe
UK Member of Parliament Michael Meacher recently condemned seven years
of secrecy over GM food and feed safety . “On the seventh anniversary
of the first disclosure of scientific concern about GM food safety I am
supporting calls for freedom of access to the data used by the
Government to approve GM foods.” Meacher said, “ Since the issue is the
launching of GM products into the nation’s food supply that have never
been independently tested, this is a public scandal of huge proportions.”
Next year the EU will decide how member countries will draft
‘coexistence laws’ for GM, conventional and organic crops to be grown
together. But at a conference in Bologna, Italy, in September, experts
maintained such ‘co-existence’ to be biologically impossible. Angelika
Hilbeck of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich said that
, “[trying to prevent GMO contamination] starts with the seeds; you
want to make sure you get uncontaminated seeds. This is the origin of
everything, from there on the contamination multiplies. For example, in
Canada it is hardly possible to get GM-free canola seeds.”
News emerged in October about Monsanto’s massive illegal GM
contamination of Romania. The country has the largest GM cultivated
landscape in Europe; officially half the 140 000 hectares of soya
planted in 2005 is registered to be GM. However, according to
representatives of farmers’ associations and even biotech giant
Monsanto’s former Romanian manager, up to 90 percent of soya is GM. The
core of the problem is due to genetically engineered crops contaminating
the traditional cultures, as well as the illegal selling of GM soya
seeds. GM potatoes and plums were also found .
Greenpeace protesters stopped the 125 000 tonne bulk-carrier Étoile’s
huge consignment of GM animal feed from the US from being unloaded in
Bristol. The feed was destined for British dairy cows to produce milk
for the UK’s biggest supermarkets. Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda, Waitrose
and Morrisons all sell own-brand milk from cows fed on American GM feed.
The GM varieties were banned in Europe, but were found by expert
laboratory analysts in samples taken from ships over the last two years.
Campaigners believe that only strict rules with liability regulations
applied by governments can stop the unauthorised spread of GM seeds and
products, which seems to be increasingly out of control all around the
world. Doreen Stabinsky of Greenpeace International says, “If states do
not act and set strict rules now GM crops will further contaminate
lands, seeds and food around the world.” But no Government or
international agency has established a public record of contamination
incidents or other problems associated with GM crops. GeneWatch UK and
Greenpeace International are launching the first on-line register of
genetically modified contamination incidents. The on-line, searchable
web site gives details of all the known cases of GM contamination of
food, feed, seed and wild plants that have taken place worldwide .
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