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2-Plants: Welcome to the world of unintended consequences



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   "But, as a farmer friend recently noted, a growing numbers of
    soyabean fields this summer are not without unwanted plants. 'I've
    sprayed my Roundup beans twice this summer and I can see maize still
    growing in the fields,' he said. [...] Moreover, he has never planted
    Roundup maize on his farm so the hated maize cannot be a volunteer
    from his last year's crop. 'But,' he guesses, 'I think it is. My
    suspicion is the non-GMO seed I planted last year had to have some
    Roundup maize in it. That's the only explanation for why I can't kill
    the volunteer maize with Roundup this year.'"
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-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Welcome to the world of unintended consequences
SOURCE: Farmers Weekly, UK, by Alan Guebert
        http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/rrvolunteercorn.htm
DATE:   27 Aug - 2 Sep 2004


------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Welcome to the world of unintended consequences

US farmers love the ease with which GM soyabeans can be kept clean. But
that may not be so easy in the future, says Alan Guebert


IN THE middle of a mild and amply moist summer, central Illinois is one
endless carpet of green. Fields of tall and already heavily-eared maize
line the roads for hundreds of miles at every point of the compass.

This vertical and verdant bounty is broken only by roadways and the
state's other principal crop, the just-as-green, more horizontal fields
of thickly seeded soyabeans. Every one of those fields is absolutely
weedless; Monsanto has seen to that.

But, as a farmer friend recently noted, a growing numbers of soyabean
fields this summer are not without unwanted plants. "I've sprayed my
Roundup beans twice this summer and I can see maize still growing in the
fields," he said.

Volunteer maize, sprouting from the leftovers of the previous year's
crop, is the bane of all soya farmers. My friend despises it because he,
like many farmers on a strict maize-soya beans planting rotation,
believes every unwanted maize plant is a tall flag that declares him to
be a less-than-good farmer.

In this case, however, it is not his fault. After all, he's dunked his
soya crop not once but twice with Roundup and the maize continues to
thrive. Moreover, he has never planted Roundup maize on his farm so the
hated maize cannot be a volunteer from his last year's crop. "But," he
guesses, "I think it is. My suspicion is the non-GMO seed I planted last
year had to have some Roundup maize in it. That's the only explanation
for why I can't kill the volunteer maize with Roundup this year."

Welcome to the wonderful world of unintended consequences.

The main reason eight out of 10 American soya acres sprout genetically
modified seed is the simplicity and ease of keeping those acres
absolutely clean of every non-soya plant - especially volunteer maize.

That clear victory, however, may be slipping away with the advance of GM
maize. Roundup herbicide sprayed on Roundup Ready soyabeans will not kill
Roundup Ready maize.

"I may have to go back to walking my soyabean fields with a hoe to get
rid of the maize this year and in the future," my farming buddy sighs.

Going back to what worked is an easy, if not a sweaty, route for him. The
same cannot be said about the unknown and unintended health effects of GM
food, a July 27 report from US National Academy of Sciences notes.

The detailed report, commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture,
the Food and Drug Administration and the US Environmental Protection
Agency, recommends that government agencies "should assess the safety of
genetically altered foods - whether produced by genetic engineering or by
other techniques -on a case-by-case basis to determine whether unintended
changes in their composition could adversely affect human health."

In fact, the report's chairman, a chemist from the University of Texas,
explains: "All evidence to date indicates that any breeding technique
that alters a plant or animal - whether by genetic engineering or other
methods - has the potential to create unintended changes in the quality
or amounts of food components that could harm health."

The Academy was quick to note, however, that "genetic engineering is not
an inherently hazardous process. But the resulting food, along with foods
created from other methods of genetic modification, should be examined to
determine if the inserted genes produce toxins or allergens."

The report went on to note that GM food currently on the market does not
need to be re-tested or traced. It did recommend that newly "genetically-
altered food, including those genetically-engineered" should be sampled,
analysed and profiled.

And, it continues, "Improved tracing and tracking methods should be
implemented for genetically engineered food when warranted..."

The Academy report, authored by members of its National Research Council
and Institute of Medicine, also suggests "a significant research effort"
needs to be made "to detect health changes in the population that could
result from genetic alternation and, specifically, genetic engineering of
food."

To no one's surprise, each side of the very quiet GM food debate in
America claims the report supports their central theses: that biofood is
safe and that biofood may pack unintended health hazards.

As far as my friend the farmer, I suspect he cares little about the
report and I know he will not read it. This August, he has bigger problems.

Like seeing volunteer maize in his Roundup soyabean fields every time he
looks out his kitchen window, even on moonlit nights.

"You know how life is supposed to go full circle?" he asked me in an end-
of-July telephone conversation. "Well, mine just did. I'm back to hand-
hoeing maize out of soyabean fields."

I then remind him that I predicted that very consequence just two years
ago when we discussed the virtues and vices of planting GM maize.

"But I got it and I never bought it!" he roars.

Alas, the wonderful world of unintended consequences.




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