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New study on the spread of genetically altered traits in plants confirms
fears of genetic pollution
Mentmore, 18 December 1997
With the publication of new research in Germany highlighting the dangers of
genetic engineering in agriculture, the Natural Law Party has repeated its
call for a complete ban on all genetically altered foods since they pose
great hazards for human health and the environment.
In the German state of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), a detailed study by
the state's Ministry for Ecology has shown convincingly that herbicide
resistance that has been engineered into oilseed rape is transferred to
normal rape 200 metres away [see article below].
According to London-based independent genetics scientist Dr Michael
Antoniou, "This is only the latest in a long list of field trials showing
that genetically engineered (GE) crops, once released, are totally
uncontainable. They will become a nightmare for conventional farmers to
control. For farmers who do not want to grow them, such as the organic
sector, these crops will be almost impossible to avoid."
Studies published in Denmark, as well as by the Scottish Crop Research
Institute, have also shown that GE oilseed rape readily cross pollinates,
not only with non-engineered rape but also with wild weedy relatives (such
as field mustard and radish). In these studies cross pollination was found
up to 2.5 kilometres away.
"This means that herbicide resistant weeds - so-called superweeds - will
rapidly appear and spread," Dr Antoniou said. "Once weeds have multiple
resistance genes, which may occur within just a few growing seasons, they
will be particularly difficult to control. This will result in greater
dependence and use of agrochemicals, rather than less, as is claimed by the
Dr Antoniou also pointed out that "volunteers" (plants which grow from seed
that has fallen from a crop at the time of harvesting) will also be
herbicide resistant. This will pose a great problem for farmers who usually
clear volunteers with herbicides before planting the next crop. Warning to
the British government Dr Geoffrey Clements, a physicist and leader of
the Natural Law Party in the UK, said that this information should be
noted by the British government ministers who are now considering
approving oilseed rape as the first GE crop to be grown commercially
in Britain from next spring. Oilseed rape is currently the fourth most
widely grown crop in Britain.
"The government must listen to the warnings and avoid being driven by
short-term commercial interests," Dr Clements said. "Genetic engineering is
a novel, untried, and very inexact science. Already there are numerous
indications of the potential for great damage to the environment and to
human health from genetically engineered foods."
Dr Clements said that in recent decades the promise of cheap power through
nuclear energy was soon dashed not only by the astronomical cost of dealing
with nuclear waste but also by the impracticality of storing
ever-increasing quantities of radioactive material. "Those problems will
seem insignificant compared to the aftermath of genetic pollution on this
planet which will result if the rush to exploit the short-term
profitability of GE crops is not curbed," he remarked.
Dr Clements congratulated the Ministry for Ecology in Niedersachsen, as
well as the Consumers' Association, Friends of the Earth and other groups
in the UK, who are bringing these issues to the awareness of the public. He
also praised The Guardian newspaper for its in-depth coverage of all the
issues in its Monday to Thursday editions this week.
"Every single survey has shown that wherever the public is well-informed
about the issues, the vast majority are opposed to genetically engineered
foods. Perfectly safe natural alternatives are readily available, and no
one believes the propaganda that GE crops are essential to help feed the
hungry or to secure food stocks for the future. In fact, if the GE
revolution is not halted and if the balance of Nature continues to be
disrupted, we could well see the worst famines and disease of all
END of press statement
See also briefing sheet by Friends of the Earth on genetically engineered
oilseed rape (canola), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
MORE: Translation of German article follows . .
DIE TAGESZEITUNG Nr. 5401, 6 December 1997 (Germany) Page 8 Business and
Herbicide-resistant rape spreads its manipulation by Jurgen
Genetically engineered rape plants on a test field in Gehrden near Hanover
have passed on their herbicide-resistance gene to ordinary rape growing in
the area. The Niedersachsen Ministry for Ecology (NLV) has been able to
show that normal rape situated at a distance of 200 metres from the test
field of the Hoechst/Schering subsidiary AgroEvo has been transformed into
transgenic, herbicide-resistant rape.
The Niedersachsen Minister of the Environment, Monika Griefahn, said that
the NLV research in Gehrden confirmed her worst fears. "Once the
manipulated genes are released into the surroundings, there is no way to
contain them," said Griefahn yesterday in Hanover. Bees and wind spread the
pollen of genetically engineered plants just as they do with other plants,
and in this case they also spread the artificial genes.
The open-air field trial to grow the genetically modified rape, which is
resistant to the herbicide Basta [glufosinate ammonium], was authorised in
1995 by the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, in the face of opposition from
Griefahn. AgroEvo merely had to provide an eight-metre safety border around
the test field.
Niedersachsen financed its own research programme, parallel to the open-air
field trial, at a cost of DM450,000. Within a radius of 1,000 metres around
the test field, the NLV indexed plants and collected hundreds of thousands
of seeds from wild plants and normal rape growing in the area.
The NLV has so far tested only the rape seed it has collected, for the
Basta resistant gene. The seeds were fed a solution containing the Basta
herbicide. Seeds that grew into plants in spite of the Basta were then
tested for the herbicide-resistant gene. Environment Minister Griefahn is
concerned that further tests will show that the resistance gene has been
carried over into wild plants as well. Most likely this would occur with
plants that are related to rape, such as mustard or wild radish. A transfer
of resistant genes to these type of plants would cast doubt on the whole
concept of Total Herbicide, by which the seed of the genetically modified
plant is sold together with the corresponding herbicide. Wild plants that
had absorbed the resistance gene from the genetic rape would then thrive
magnificently as weeds and increase, in spite of the use of
Following the first NLV findings, it is clear for Monika Griefahn "that in
the neighbourhood of transgenic fields cultivated plants can also become
transgenic". This would harm also those farmers who declined to use
genetically modified crops. They would no longer be able to guarantee to
the consumers that their products are not genetically modified.
Translator's note: Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) is one of the largest
states in Germany. The research study was initiated and funded by the state
government of Niedersachsen. The Robert Koch Institute is responsible for
authorising test licences.