GENET archive


2-Plants: First triple-herbicide resistant canola discovered in Canada

-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  Canola seeds tested for herbicide resistance
        Triple-resistant canola weeds found in Alberta
SOURCE: Western Producer, Kanada, by Mary MacArthur
DATE:   February 10, 2000

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Canola seeds tested for herbicide resistance
Triple-resistant canola weeds found in Alberta

Scientists have long said the use of herbicide-tolerant canola
would eventually result in super-resistant plants. Now they've
been proven right. Volunteer canola resistant to three herbicide
tolerant canola systems has been found in a field in northern
Alberta. "We knew it was going to happen," said Alberta
Agriculture canola specialist Phil Thomas. "It was only a matter
of when." A series of chemical and DNA tests confirm the weeds in
Tony Huether's field near Sexsmith are resistant to Roundup,
Liberty and Pursuit chemicals.

It's the first official case of natural gene stacking in canola
since genetically modified canola was adopted by farmers five
years ago, said Denise Maurice, agronomy manager with Westco
Fertilizers, a fertilizer sales company. Stacking is the transfer
of multiple genetic traits, in this case herbicide tolerance. The
discovery comes at a time when GM crops are under fire worldwide.
Despite assurances from scientists, environmental groups have
raised concerns about the safety of eating products made from GM
crops and have expressed fears of producing a so-called

Canola scientist Keith Downey, who created modern canola, said
the triple-resistant canola isn't a great problem. "We haven't
created a superweed or anything like that." Adding 2,4-D or a
similar herbicide to a chemical mix will kill any wayward weeds,
he added. "I don't think it means anything to consumers."

Jenny Hillard, vice-president of the Consumer Association of
Canada, said this will just be another "horror story" tossed
about to frighten consumers. "The backlash now is so little based
on fact, I know it won't make it any worse," said Hillard. "The
general public hasn't a clue of what's going on. They're
frightened with so little science behind their fears. They need
to get a handle on this or we'll lose the whole damn technology."

Still, farmers like Huether have begun to question the technology
that led to the canola stew in his field. The gene crossings have
prompted him to stop growing genetically modified canola. "I
wouldn't say I'd never do it again, but the way I feel, it's for
the best interest of the consumer that I don't."

Huether seeded two fields of canola in 1997. On the west side of
a county road he planted Quest, a canola tolerant of Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide. On the east side of the road he planted 20
acres of Innovator, a canola tolerant of Aventis's Liberty
herbicide. The rest of the 140-acre field was planted to 45A71, a
Smart canola tolerant to Cyanamid's Pursuit and Odyssey
herbicides. All are Argentine types. The two fields are about 30
metres apart.

The year after he planted the field, he discovered volunteer
weeds resistant to Roundup where none had been planted. Double
resistance was confirmed the first year. The next year, triple
resistance was confirmed. Triple resistance can't happen in one
year, said Downey. The mixing of all three herbicide-tolerant
types has been blamed on a combination of bees and wind that
carry pollen between plants in fields too close together.
Researchers now recommend at least 200 metres between genetically
modified canola varieties and any other canola field to prevent
gene crossing.

It's been two years since Alberta Agriculture officials suspected
there might be a chance the volunteer canola weeds are resistant
to all three canola-herbicide systems, Huether said. Yet few
farmers, including him, have been made aware of potential
problems and results of the tests, he said. Huether is bothered
by the secrecy surrounding the field tests.

"Many plants were taken and a lot of seeds taken and grown out in
the lab and sprayed with herbicide, and DNA tests done on it, and
the results are not being made public. I feel that should be made
public." Huether points his finger at the close relationship
between chemical companies and government scientists. "It's hush
hush because research is funded to a large extent by big
business. I'm losing more and more confidence in the whole system
of research and how things are approved."

Carman Read, with Monsanto, said the company had nothing to do
with the Alberta Agriculture study and hasn't influenced Alberta
Agriculture to withhold the results. John Huffman, an Alberta
Agriculture crop specialist who worked with Huether to identify
the problems, said the report will likely be released in two


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