Study Confirms Fears of Genetic Engineering Pollution

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DIE TAGESZEITUNG Nr. 5401, 6 December 1997 (Germany) Page 8 Business and Environment (TRANSLATION)

Herbicide-resistant rape spreads its manipulation by Jurgen Voges

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 Basta.

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.