Herbicide Resistant "Frankenweeds" Emerge in Canadian Canola Fields

February 10, 2000
Western Producer
Mary MacArthur, Camrose bureau

Scientists have long said the use of herbicide-tolerant canola would
eventually, according to this story, result in super-resistant plants. Now
they've been proven right.

The story says that volunteer canola resistant to three herbicide-tolerant
canola systems has been found in a field in northern Alberta.
Alberta Agriculture canola specialist Phil Thomas was quoted as saying, "We
knew it was going to happen. It was only a matter of when." A series of
chemical and DNA tests confirm the weeds in Tony Huether's field near
Sexsmith are resistant to Roundup, Liberty and Pursuit chemicals.
Denise Maurice, agronomy manager with Westco Fertilizers, a fertilizer sales
company, was cited as saying it's the first official case of natural gene
stacking in canola since genetically modified canola was adopted by farmers
five years ago.

Canola scientist Keith Downey, who created modern canola, wangs cited as
says the triple-resistant canola isn't a great problem, adding, "We haven't
created a superweed or anything like that." He said that adding 2,4-D or a
similar herbicide to a chemical mix will kill any wayward weeds, noting, "I
don't think it means anything to consumers." [Web note: 2,4-D is a toxic

Jenny Hillard, vice-president of the Consumer Association of Canada [Web
note Canada's so-called "Consumer Association" is pro-biotech], was
cited as saying this will just be another "horror story" tossed about to
frighten consumers, adding, "The backlash now is so little based on fact, I
know it won't make it any worse. The general public hasn't a clue of what's
going on. They're frightened with so little science behind their fears. They
need to get a handle on this or we'll lose the whole damn technology."

Still, the story says, farmers like Huether have begun to question the
technology that led to the canola stew in his field. The gene crossings have
prompted him to stop growing genetically modified canola, adding, "I
wouldn't say I'd never do it again, but the way I feel, it's for the best
interest of the consumer that I don't."

The story says that Huether seeded two fields of canola in 1997. On the west
side of a county road he planted Quest, a canola tolerant of Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide. On the east side of the road he planted 20 acres of
Innovator, a canola tolerant of Aventis's Liberty herbicide. The rest of the
140-acre field was planted to 45A71, a Smart canola tolerant to Cyanamid's
Pursuit and Odyssey herbicides. All are Argentine types. The two fields are
about 30 metres apart. The year after he planted the field, he discovered
volunteer weeds resistant to Roundup where none had been planted. Double
resistance was confirmed the first year. The next year, triple resistance
was confirmed. Triple resistance can't happen in one year, said Downey. The
mixing of all three herbicide-tolerant types has been blamed on a
combination of bees and wind that carry pollen between plants in fields too
close together. Researchers now recommend at least 200 metres between
genetically modified canola varieties and any other canola field to prevent
gene crossing.

Huether was further cited as saying he is bothered by the secrecy
surrounding the field tests adding, "Many plants were taken and a lot of
seeds taken and grown out in the lab and sprayed with herbicide, and DNA
tests done on it, and the results are not being made public. I feel that
should be made public." Huether points his finger at the close relationship
between chemical companies and government scientists, stating, "It's hush
hush because research is funded to a large extent by big business. I'm
losing more and more confidence in the whole system of research and how
things are approved." Carman Read, with Monsanto, was cited as saying the
company had nothing to do with the Alberta Agriculture study and hasn't
influenced Alberta Agriculture to withhold the results. John Huffman, an
Alberta Agriculture crop specialist who worked with Huether to identify the
problems, was cited as saying the report will likely be released in two

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