Press release from GM Free Cymru
28th November 2007
“GM Canola will be everywhere and that is inevitable”
In the light of the decisions in NSW and Victoria (1) to give a “green light” to the commercial growing of GM canola in those two states, one has to wonder what possible benefits to the consumer or to the farming community the two governments had in mind. No wonder that there is uproar amongst NGOs and consumer groups who have actually done some homework on GM canola and on the matter of coexistence.
Four items which are relevant to the debate in Australia:
1. GM Canola is impossible to contain
2. Contamination thresholds are not based on science
3. GM Canola spread by wild animals
4. Uncontrollable GM Canola Contamination in Japan
1. GM CANOLA IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTAIN
Comments made by Dr Jeremy Sweet, then of NIAB [and later part of EFSA] (2), at the GM Science debate held at IGER, Aberystwyth (3) on 17 March 2003.
1. .. ‘people who have studied oil seed rape in seed banks have found that you get this persistence of a low level, of about 100 plants per square metre for several years. It could be up to 10 years’.
2. ‘We looked at a combine harvester leaving actually a GM rape field, this was in the early days before we got too sensitive about these things. We found 6 kilos of seed in that combine harvester. It then went into a field of barley and harvested the barley, and that barley flushed out the rape seed and it all dropped into the ground. Now if you start doing that repeatedly on the farm you very rapidly start to have oil seed rape spread all around the farm and occurring in seed banks, and it becomes quite difficult to manage’.
3. ‘the number of erucic acid crops has always been quite low, and usually fairly well managed and maintained in the production system. I think where the concern arises is that if oil seed rape..if GM oil seed rape becomes very widely grown, becomes say more than 20% or 30% of the area of oil seed rape, then it becomes much more difficult to manage these sorts of things. If you are just talking about a few crops here and there around the country, it is much easier to manage than if you are talking about it becoming a mainstream part of agriculture.’
4. ‘we do have to accept the fact that once GM oil seed rape is commercialised it will be everywhere and that is inevitable, because conventional rape is everywhere, there is no reason why its going to behave differently from conventional rape. So once we start growing GM rape it will become as widely dispersed as conventional rape’
5. ‘I think realistically it’s going to be very difficult for GM oil seed rape to coexist with non-GM on the same farm’
2. CONTAMINATION THRESHOLDS ARE NOT BASED ON SCIENCE
Dr Jeremy Sweet at the same meeting (4):
Well, we have thresholds for varietal purity in seeds, so that a farmer knows that when he buys a batch of seed it’s that variety and not another one and also it doesn’t contain off types or dead seed or whatever. For GM seed, there was a feeling that a threshold was needed but the reason for it was in fact a political one, because the EU had decided that the product threshold would be 0.9 and if you are going to produce say oil seed rape at 0.9% you have to have seed with a considerably lower level than that to allow for the fact that contamination will occur during the growing of the crop to allow for pollen coming in and seed contamination and so on. So there was a group of us who got together in Brussels and pondered over this, and we came to the conclusion, that, in order to allow enough margin for the farmer to achieve the threshold of 0.9 we would have to set the seed threshold at about 0.3 for oil seed rape, so that allowed him effectively about 0.6 to play around with in growing his crop and that’s how we achieved the threshold.
Very unscientific I know but that’s basically how we did it, because we were basically worked into a corner. The EU said that ‘politically we will set a level at 0.9 and therefore we want scientific advice on how you can achieve that and what is required for seed.’
John Tanner, Department for International Development:
It’s a question for Dr. Sweet. I am intrigued that these threshold figures you talk about seem to be arbitrary, I think that’s the word, I don’t know if you actually used that word but they are arbitrary. You suggest also that they may be used as non-tariff barriers to trade. Do you want to make any further comment on that comment that you made?
Dr Jeremy Sweet:
Well, I would draw your attention to the fact that this is a scientific meeting and therefore I couldn’t possibly comment on these things, except for saying that there was no scientific foundation or basis used for the setting of what was first of all 1% and now has changed to 0.9% threshold. I mean it’s not based on food safety. And it’s not based on any other standards or whatever they use in certified crop production. It is based on political and sociological grounds.
3. GM CANOLA SPREAD BY WILD ANIMALS
Germinable GM seeds survive in faeces
A new paper (5) has confirmed what has long been suspected—that GM canola seed can be spread across a farming landscape by grazing wild animals such as fallow deer. The researchers (1) found that fallow deer fed on a varied diet of natural weeds and herbs, GM maize and GM canola could spread germinable GM canola seed through their faeces. It is already known that such seeds can be spread through transport on coats and hooves. Gene flow from GM canola (Brassica napus) to native relatives, such as Brassica rapa and Raphanus raphanistrum could then occur.
Although the authors argue that the transported GM canola seeds would have no enhanced fitness by comparison with wild relatives (Steward et al. 2002), they conclude that uncontrolled dispersal of GM traits is more likely with GM canola than with GM maize; and they say that this fact should be “further taken into account when liberating GM plants with a small seedling size like rape.”
Our investigations on the subject of endozoochory of germinable maize seeds and rapeseed by fallow deer revealed that excreted rapeseed were able to germinate, while no intact maize seeds were detectable in faeces and rectum content. In this context, Heinken et al. (2001, 2005; Heinken and Raudnitschka 2002) reported that fallow deer transport various diasporas (seeds and fruits) in the coats and hooves (epizoochory). In fallow deer faeces, 42 vascular plant species, among them economically valuable plants, were found (Heinken et al. 2005). Despite finding no intact maize seeds in this study with fallow deer, it cannot be excluded that intact maize grains or rather intact plant material might be detected in other deer species such as red deer or moose as the efficacy of the mastication process might be influenced by other factors such as body size, developmental stage (juvenile vs adult), illness (e.g. diarrhea) or distinct species characteristics. Rapeseed is known to retain its germination capacity up to 5 years, sometimes even longer. Its germination capacity will be maintained, and development of a plant could be possible if seeds were placed in favorable environmental conditions (Pekrun et al. 1998).
4. UNCONTROLLABLE GM CANOLA CONTAMINATION IN JAPAN
Extracts from recent reports (6):
GM canola pollution is much more widespread than expected.
According to this year’s findings, GM canola found near to an oil extraction factory in Chiba prefecture was tolerant to both Roundup and Basta. As there is no GM canola variety currently available which has transgenes for both types of herbicide tolerance, this GM canola must have been crossed at a seed or cultivation stage, or possibly at the spot where it was spilled.
Another finding, according to surveys conducted by a team lead by Professor Masaharu Kawata (Yokkaichi University) in Mie prefecture between 2005 and 2007, is that GM canola is becoming perennial. It is not common for canola to be biennial due to the cold Canadian winters, but in the warmer winters in Japan, canola can survive for several years and became like a bushy tree, and pollen from GM canola then continues to spread year after year. Thus, the environmental impact caused by spilled GM canola seeds is potentially very serious in Japan.
According to Professor Kawata, “There are leaf mustard and conventional rapeseed growing around the spilled GM canola plants, so it is only a matter of time before they are crossed and contaminated by GMOs. Also, some other cruciferous vegetables like Japanese radish and Chinese cabbage are in danger of GM contamination.”
Keisuke Amagasa of NO! GMO Campaign notes that, “Japan does not produce any GM crops. However, because Japan imports GM canola from Canada, GM contamination has already occurred and it is spreading to a much greater degree than one could imagine. If GM crops are cultivated, then this kind of pollution will spread even more. Judging by the ominous precedent of Canada, once GM crops are cultivated, segregation between GM and non-GM will become almost impossible, and keeping pure non-GM varieties away from GM contamination will be very hard. The clear conclusion from the findings is that cultivating or importing GM crops, leads to GM pollution and once this pollution begins, it can cause irreversible damage.”
(1) GM canola gets the go-ahead in NSW and Victoria
(2) Jeremy Sweet is now Vice Chair EFSA Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
He lists his experience in risk assessment and scientific research as follows:
• Research on monitoring, gene flow and environmental impact for UK Government
• Co-ordinator EC SIGMEA Project studying impacts of GM crops and coexistence.
• Chairman, Steering Committee of the European Science Foundation project on
Assessing the Environmental Impact of GM Crops (AIGM)
• Member BBSRC Steering Committee on Gene Flow in GMOs programme.
• Member Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit on Costs and benefits of GMOs.
• Co-existence: Participant in COEXTRA, EC/IPTS study and EC Round Table.
(3) Sweet’s full statement is on pages 16 -26 at
P. Guertler, B. Lutz, R. Kuehn, H. H. D. Meyer, R. Einspanier, B. Killermann and C. Albrecht, 2007, “Fate of recombinant DNA and Cry1Ab protein after ingestion and dispersal of genetically modified maize
in comparison to rapeseed by fallow deer ( Dama dama )”,
European Journal of Wildlife Research
Received: 8 February 2007 / Revised: 11 April 2007 / Accepted: 11 April 2007
(6) Spilled GM canola keeps on contaminating
Spilled GM Canola Growing in Japan - Citizens’ Survey Results 2007
By Keisuke Amagasa
NO! GMO Campaign, Posted August 6, 2007
TASMANIA would be crazy to scrap its ban on genetically modified crops. Body: Primary Industries Minister David Llewellyn is right not to follow Victoria and New South Wales down the road to a doubtful GM future. He says Tasmania will not lift its moratorium on these crops and he has the support of many farmers, food manufacturers and consumer groups as well as the Liberal Opposition and the Greens. Victoria and New South Wales have chosen a moment of transition between federal governments to approve the production of GM canola, against the wishes of other states. Read more here
What GM Free Cymru says …
Earlier: More evidence linking GM Foods to Allergic Responses