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Scientists Uncover More
evidence of GE Superweeds

Scientists shocked at GM gene transfer

Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Thursday August 15, 2002
The Guardian

Weeds have become stronger and fitter by cross-breeding with genetically
modified crops, leading to fears that superweeds which are difficult or
impossible to control may invade farms growing standard crops.
Two separate teams, one working on sunflowers in the US and the other on
sugar beet in France, have shown weeds and GM food crops readily
swapping genes.

In the case of wild sunflowers, classed as "weed" varieties in America,
specimens became hardier and produced 50% more seeds if they were
crossed with GM sunflowers which had been programmed to be resistant to
seed-nibbling moth lavae.

Allison Snow, who headed the team at Ohio State University, confessed in
New Scientist that she was "shocked" by the results. "It does not prove
all GM crops are dangerous," she said. "I just think we need to be
careful because genes can be very valuable for a weed and persist for
ever once they are out there."

Pioneer Hi-Bred, which developed the GM sunflower, has abandoned the
idea of selling the strain commercially.

The sugar beet results show that wild and GM varieties swapped genes,
sometimes to the advantage of the wild varieties and the detriment of
the GM plants, which produced lower yields. Writing in the Journal of
Applied Ecology, the University of Lille team said they had
underestimated the likelihood of GM beets swapping genes with the beet
weeds that grow among them.

The two sets of results add to the fears of environmental groups and
organic farmers that normal crops could be contaminated by GM varieties
- and make weeds impossible to control. This is less of a problem in
countries where crops have been introduced, for instance soya grown the
US, because no native weed varieties exist. But in Europe, particularly
in Britain, where weed species of both beet and oil seed rape exist, the
risk is potentially serious.

Adrian Bebb, GM campaigner at the environmental group Friends of the
Earth, said GM beet was now being grown at 16 farm-scale trial sites in
England. "Once again scientists are discovering new impacts of GM
crops," he said. "The government always emphasises the importance of a
sound scientific approach to GM crop safety, so they should look at this
research seriously and question whether or not we should be testing GM
crops out of doors."

Two years ago government research reported that GM crops could
cross-pollinate with ordinary crops over larger distances than had been
thought. The government is in its final year of trials to investigate
the effect of growing GM crops on the countryside.

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