2-Plants: FAO paper fear invasion of "superweeds"
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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: Scientists fear invasion of "superweeds"
SOURCE: Reuters, by David Brough
DATE: November 13, 2001
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
FEATURE - Scientists fear invasion of "superweeds"
ROME - Beware the invasion of the superweeds.
Scientists fear genetically modified (GM) crops, already under attack for
allegedly creating "mutant" food, could also create plants that are
resistant to herbicides and insects. These could germinate from a previous
harvest, hampering weed controls. GM herbicide-and insect-resistant crops
are being planted on millions of acres (hectares) of arable land, mainly in
North America, but some scientists worry about their impact on the
"There are several concerns about the consequences of development and
deployment of transgenic herbicide-resistant and insect-resistant crops,"
the United Nations food body said in a paper on the risks and benefits of
GM crops. "Objections to the use of these transgenic crops rest on several
issues...such as: the potential transfer of genes from herbicide resistant
crops to wild relatives, thus creating superweeds," the Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
Media in Canada reported earlier this year that the country's expert panel
on biotechnology said GM superweeds had invaded Canadian farms. Canola
plants engineered to help farmers had instead escaped and crossbred with
each other to form plants stronger than their parents. Most pesticides
cannot kill these canola superweeds, which are growing in wheat fields
where farmers don't want them.
Herbicide-and insect-resistant crops may pollute the gene pool of
conventional relatives growing in the same area or nearby, depending on the
wind and insects, the FAO says. "If there is no barrier to pollination, you
get this potential hazard," Ricardo Labrada Romero, the FAO's weed and
plant protection officer, told Reuters in an interview. "If, say, you are
rotating maize with soybeans, you may find herbicide-resistant maize
growing in a soybean field one year." The development of superweeds
increases the need for additional labour to weed by hand and rid fields of
unwanted plants that compete with the food crop, reducing its yield. "Weeds
compete with crops for water, nutrients and light and are responsible for
up to five percent of crop losses in developed countries," Labrada Romero
The benefits of genetically modified crops are mainly economic as farmers
need to use less herbicides or insecticides. "With herbicide-resistant
crops, you use less tractors, less fuel and implements," Labrada Romero
said. James Dargie, a director of the FAO's agriculture department, told a
recent seminar in Stockholm that use of GM crops in the United States had
put the savings on weed control by U.S. farmers at $15 per acre (0.4
hectares). "One estimate puts the overall reduction in pesticide use within
the United States at 1.2 million kg (2.646 million lbs) per year,
suggesting significant environmental benefits," he said.
This month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved for a
further seven years the use of corn genetically modified with Bacillus
thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally-occurring soil bacterium that produces a
protein toxic to certain insects. Incorporating the genetic material from
Bt into corn plants enables them to produce the same toxin and defend
against several species of pest. The EPA rejected claims by some scientists
that Bt harmed local Monarch butterfly populations. "The scientific
evidence demonstrates that Bt corn does not impact Monarch butterfly
populations," the agency said. "Bt corn has been evaluated thoroughly by
EPA, and we are confident that it does not pose risks to human health or to
the environment," it added. "Farmers can continue to use an effective, low-
risk pest control alternative, which helps to protect the environment by
reducing the amount of conventional pesticides used."
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