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26 July, 2005

Weedy logic

The BBC reports that a herbicide-resistant weed may have developed naturally alongside, and possibly as a consequence of a GM crop trial.

The crop was oilseed rape which had been bioengineered for herbicide resistance – it does seem likely that the trait was passed on to charlock, a related species growing wild in the same field.
The resistant hybrid was only found in the field during one year, and the population seemed to have been eliminated (from the study area, anyway) naturally before the next growing season, but it's a strong indication that it's possible, even probable, and next time it mightn't just die back on its own.

That's bad enough, but the scary part is the reassurance from the researchers:

... they argued, the study reinforced the view that the environmental impact was negligible.
"Herbicide-tolerant weeds tend to under-perform compared with wild type, so unless all its competitors have been sprayed out with the same herbicide, it won't thrive," commented Dr Les Firbank, who led the consortium of scientists on the recent UK Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of genetically modified plants.
"There's lots of evidence for that," he told the BBC News website.
That may be true for past cases, but isn't even an indication that it'll happen that way in future. Previous examples of herbicide-tolerant weeds haven't been as vigourous as 'natural' varieties, but there's no reason to think they couldn't be.

I've bought dozens, probably hundreds, of train tickets from Lancaster to North Wales over the past decade, but I've never disembarked at Wigan and explored that town. By the researchers' argument, I haven't, so I never could.

[Update 3/8/05: Heh. Someone visited this page via a Google search for "Dr Les Firbank Lancaster". Back tracking has revealed that he's based about 100m from my office. I had no idea!]


This happened in Canada as well. A farmer who had planted regular canola (r*peseed) in a field next to a field of "Roundup Ready" (ie. GM) canola found that some of his canola was becoming resistant to Roundup. He was sued by Monsanto for patent violation, and, IIRC, Monsanto won at the Supreme Court of Canada.

NB: The 'questionable content' filter wouldn't let me post this in its original form. I bet you can guess where it had a problem.

Posted by Jon at July 28, 2005 01:06 AM

That's bizarre. As if the farmer had set out to 'steal' Monsanto's intellectual property! Monsanto should have been sued for contaminating the farmer's crop.

Thanks, Jon. I've modified the content filter, though the word was probably blacklisted as a result of a specific spam attack, and if that recurs, I might have to block it again.

Posted by NRT at July 28, 2005 04:01 PM
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