Scientists deny superweed claims

GM mutant weed fears played down by ecology researchers

Scientists have played down reports of a “mutant superweed” found near the site of genetically modified (GM) oil seed rape trials. National media coverage of a herbicide-resistant hybrid of Sinapis arvensis and the GM plant, found by scientists from the independent Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) working for DEFRA, sensationalised the discovery and added fodder for anti-GM campaigners, said a CEH representative. “There was confusion sparked by Guardian and Daily Mail articles over cross fertilisation of GM oil seed rape and what a hybrid actually is. I would urge people concerned to read the full report published on the DEFRA website,” he added. CEH co-ordinator of farm-scale evaluations of GM crops Dr Les Firbank said the impact of GM- resistant weeds would be “pretty much non-existent”. He added: “It’s recognised that gene-flow from GM crops to wild relatives is a potential problem, but in this case, it happens very, very rarely and there are no environmental consequences. “Some people would say any gene-flow at all is unacceptable. I think the risk is low enough to be acceptable,” he added. CEH Pathogen Population Ecology Research team head Dr Rosie Hails said: “Hybrids between these two species — oil seed rape and charlock — are not only rare, but previous studies have shown they do not produce viable seeds. Thus, they do not persist and so are not weeds, let alone superweeds.” The report, Monitoring Movement of Herbicide Resistant Genes from Farm-Scale Evaluation Field Sites to Populations of Wild Crop Relatives, is at www.defra.gov.uk.

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