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2-Plants: Canadian farmers have to fight herbicide resistant weed-canola



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TITLE:  Canola farmer fights seed invasion
SOURCE: The Globe and Mail, Canada, by Heather Scoffield
        http://www.theglobeandmail.com/gam/ROB/20000814/RGMOO.html
DATE:   August 14, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


Canola farmer fights seed invasion
GENETIC MODIFICATION
Lavern Affleck of Saskatchewan says farmers are being unwillingly 
swept into a situation where science is working against them.

Ottawa -- Saskatchewan canola farmer Lavern Affleck thought long and 
hard before going public with his concerns about genetically modified 
seeds. Many people are fearful of the environmental and health 
effects of modified seeds, which are altered with genes from other 
plants to make them resistant to herbicides, but Mr. Affleck had 
found much of the criticism too radical or irrational for his tastes.

However, after he saw herbicide-resistant canola unexpectedly popping 
up all over his fields this spring, and learned about other farmers 
whose fields were also invaded by modified seeds spreading from 
neighbouring farms, he figured the time had come to speak out. "I'm 
not anti-technology. But I'm having trouble with this one," Mr. 
Affleck said in an interview earlier this summer from his farm near 
Moosomin.

"We are not environmentalists. We are not against science. We readily 
adopt new ideas and implement them on our farm and businesses. We 
like to see progress," he said. "However . . . in the case of GMOs 
[genetically modified organisms], we feel that we are being 
unwillingly swept into a situation where that science is working 
against us."

More and more farmers have been expressing their concern that 
genetically modified canola may be out of control on the Prairies, 
said Percy Schmeiser. Mr. Schmeiser is the Saskatchewan farmer who 
has been battling biotechnology multinational Monsanto Co. in Federal 
Court. St. Louis-based Monsanto has accused Mr. Schmeiser of breaking 
patent laws by obtaining Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup 
Ready canola seed, breeding it and planting it without paying 
Monsanto the required fees.

Monsanto and Mr. Schmeiser finished their court hearings last month 
and they're now waiting for a decision, expected in September at the 
earliest. In the meantime, publicity surrounding the trial has 
prompted dozens of farmers to contact Mr. Schmeiser to discuss their 
concerns about out-of-control canola, Mr. Schmeiser said. "I've had 
at least 100 farmers across the West telling me about problems 
they're having with volunteer canola. It's just unreal the number of 
people who have canola in their fields after they have sprayed."

So-called "volunteers" are canola plants that sprout in a farmer's 
field even though they weren't planted there by the farmer. Most 
volunteer canola spreads by wind or in pollen carried by bees. The 
farmers talking to Mr. Schmeiser say they're finding large amounts of 
volunteer canola in their grain fields. And because much of that 
volunteer canola is genetically modified to withstand Roundup, a 
powerful weed killer made by Monsanto, farmers complain they're 
having to adopt increasingly complex and expensive systems of 
spraying herbicides to keep the volunteer canola at bay and out of 
their fields. "They've lost control of it now," Mr. Schmeiser said. 
"That is a very serious thing."

Monsanto agrees that its Roundup Ready canola can spread, but insists 
that controlling the spread is no different than for any other type 
of plant. All it takes is good farm management, said Craig Evans, 
general manager of biotechnology for Monsanto Canada Inc. "It's not a 
new phenomenon," he said in an interview from Saskatoon. "Can 
[genetically modified] canola outcrop? Yes, it can, but no more so 
than any other crop."

The federal government body that regulates genetically modified seeds 
is not so sure Roundup Ready canola is under control. Asked whether 
Roundup Ready canola was out of control, Bart Bilmer, spokesman for 
the Office of Biotechnology at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 
was unclear. "Certainly it's been a question that's been raised," he 
said. "That's my answer."

For Mr. Affleck, the prevalence of Roundup Ready canola has meant the 
loss of a major weed-control tool. He has never planted Monsanto's 
canola because he makes extensive use of the Roundup herbicide to 
control weeds in all his crops. He didn't want any plant that was 
resistant to Roundup mixed up in his system.

But a strong windstorm blew swaths of Roundup Ready canola on to his 
fields, and now, he can't effectively use Roundup any longer to 
control weeds in his crops. He's had to add another herbicide to the 
roster to get rid of the genetically modified canola growing like 
weeds among his wheat. "It may be necessary to use a lot more 
potentially more harmful chemicals to kill this monster."

He called Monsanto about the problem, and the company agreed to pay 
for the treatment. But he's not so sure Monsanto will be around to 
pick up the bill every year. And evidence is growing that Monsanto's 
canola is not only resistant to Roundup, but is also becoming 
resistant to other herbicides as well -- a suspicion the Canadian 
Food Inspection Agency shares. "I will never get rid of that crop. 
And I will never be able to grow an organic crop," he said. "And for 
the future, I will never be able to effectively use Roundup for my 
weed control."

Monsanto, however, said it has received only 15 complaints about 
volunteer canola in five years of selling the genetically modified 
seeds on the Prairies, and every case has been well looked after. 
Indeed, Mr. Evans said more and more farmers have been embracing 
Monsanto's modified canola and the company's market share in Western 
Canada has risen steadily. "This has had virtually no effect on my 
business," he said.

Manitoba farmer and seed grower Wayne Dobee has no ideological 
problem with genetically modified seeds and doesn't have much 
sympathy for Mr. Schmeiser and his legal battle with Monsanto. He has 
no problem with Monsanto trying to protect its patent. But he does 
want to see Monsanto and the other multinational biotechnology 
companies take responsibility for volunteer crops and the sprays 
needed to keep them under control. "If they're going to produce a 
seed that's genetically modified, they should be able to guarantee 
some kind of control," he said in an interview from his farm near 
Alexander, Man. "They should be responsible for it." 




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