Thursday, June 26, 2003

The conquest of nature (again): Superweeds foil GM crop plans

One widely heralded feature of genetically modified crops is that they
can be designed to be herbicide resistant. Farmers can spray poisons
with impunity, killing the "weeds," while the desired crops survive.
Thus, Monsanto's "Roundup ready" GM plants survive a good spraying of
Roundup, the company's pungent weed killer. Alas, recent research
indicates that the weeds are still on job, evolving in ways that make them
"Roundup ready" too!

A story from The Independent reports the findings of a researcher in the U.S.

"The paper, by Professor Bob Hartzler of the Department of Agronomy at
Iowa State University, reveals that in the past seven years, up to five weed
species have been found with resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, best
known by the Monsanto trade name Roundup. The resistance has come
about not through gene transfer from GM herbicide-tolerant crops, as some
have feared, but through natural evolution.

Glyphosate is a "broad spectrum" herbicide, meaning that, originally, it killed
everything, including crops. GM crops were developed to be tolerant of the
herbicide, so it could be applied throughout the growing season.

Two GM crops proposed for commercial growth in Britain, fodder beet and sugar
beet, are glyphosate-tolerant. But weeds have been found in Australia, Chile,
Malaysia and California and other areas of the US, that glyphosate cannot kill.

.... Pete Riley, Friends of the Earth's GM campaigner, said: "Companies like Monsanto
have spun GM crops and their weedkillers as having less impact on the
environment, but the fact of resistant weeds undoubtedly means more weedkillers,
and means the impact on the environment will be greater.

'These discoveries remove a central plank from the whole argument for GM crops.'"

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