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First sighting of GM crops in the U.S. wild

First sighting of GM crops in the U.S. wild

The GMO genie is out of the bottle. A team of researchers scoured the North Dakota countryside for GM canola, finding transgenes in 80 percent of wild canola plants. This is perhaps the first time that GM plants have been IDed in the U.S. wild.

“We found herbicide resistant canola in roadsides, waste places, ball parks, grocery stores, gas stations and cemeteries,” the researchers reported at the Ecological Society of America conference.

What’s more? Researchers discovered that these canola plants had been cross-breeding with other plants. Two of the plants analyzed by researchers contained both transgenes to make them resistant to Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready and Bayer’s LibertyLink herbicides, meaning that they had cross-pollinated.

What would stop the plants, then, from cross pollinating with, say, organic crops? It has happened. A few years back, organic rice sourced from the southern United States had been contaminated by GM rice.

According to a BBC News report, U.S. “authorities” had suspected such “volunteers”—plants growing in the wild outside of cultivated fields—but they didn’t consider them a threat.

“Regulatory agencies in the U.S. have acknowledged that volunteer populations of GM, herbicide-resistant canola are expected to occur, as well as populations of inter-specific hybrids,” Alison Snow, a professor at Ohio State University who was not involved in the research, told BBC news.

Apparently, the U.S. policy is not to place a GM crop under any special regulations unless there is a difference between it and its conventional equivalent.

Some potential differences: The GM plants’ very resistance to herbicides like Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready and Bayer’s LibertyLink and/or their ability to cross-breed with weeds would make these GM plants difficult to manage when they escape into the wild.

Will consumers soon lose their ability to choose GMO-free food? How do we put the genie back in the bottle?

Choice may be important for human health. Besides the concern with outcrossing—the movement of genes from GM plants to conventional crops and wild species—GMO critics and I worry whether the GM crops could cause allergies and whether the genes could transfer into body cells.

I just want a choice. Is that too much to ask?

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