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Alarming Study on GE Canola Pollution

Alarming Study on GE Canola Pollution
Newsday (New York, NY)
June 28, 2002

Gene Fears Reinforced;
Crossbred crops spread material via pollen to other plants

By Robert Cooke

Fears that the altered genes in genetically engineered plants may spread to
"natural" crops were recently confirmed in field experiments, Australian
scientists announced yesterday.

Such genes, which give plants resistance to weed- killing herbicides, were
spread via pollen from specially bred canola plants to "conventional" plants
growing almost two miles away, the researchers reported in the journal
Science. Only a tiny amount of the pollen got into the neighboring plants,
however; the percentage of resistant genes in seeds from those fields ranged
from 0.2 percent to less than 0.03 percent. The researchers did not use
genetically engineered plants in the experiments because gene-modified crops
are not yet approved for use in Australia. Instead, the scientists employed
crossbred plants that released similar pollen carrying genes for herbicide
resistance.

The plant scientists, at the University of Adelaide and the University of
West Australia, emphasized that only a very small amount of the special
pollen traveled to distant plants. Still, the experiment did show that the
genes got transferred.

According to weed management specialists Mary Rieger, Richard Roush and
three colleagues, their study showed clearly "that cross-pollination between
commercial canola fields occurs at low frequencies but to considerable
distance."

Canola, an oilseed crop, is being engineered with new genes so that farmers
can spray fields with commercial herbicides to control weeds, while sparing
the crop from being poisoned. Theoretically, this allows farmers to use
stronger sprays, but less often, reducing costs and environmental impact.
Similarly, crop plants such as corn and soybeans are being engineered to
resist diseases and bugs. In fact, millions of acres of cropland are now
growing genetically engineered plants in the United States.
A tremendous argument is under way in Europe over the use of gene-modified
plants. Many people fear that adding new genes to food crops may introduce
unexpected poisons, or cause allergies. There also is concern that
herbicide-resistant plants will share their genes, via pollen, to
inadvertently breed "super weeds."
The experiments in Australia were done because genetically engineered plants
may soon be introduced there, and concern has been voiced that special
resistance genes will get into the wild relatives of canola plants, thereby
spreading herbicide resistance into weeds, making them harder to control.
There is also concern that the genes will get into the crop plants on
organic farms, making them "unnatural."


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