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GE Canola Superweeds Spread Across Canada

The Ottawa Citizen, ' 'Superweeds' invade farm fields;
Canola plants are almost pesticide-proof, experts say';
by journalist Tom Spears; February 6, 2001

Genetically modified "superweeds" have invaded Canadian
farms - canola plants engineered to help farmers that
instead escaped and cross-bred with each other to form
plants stronger than their parents.

Most pesticides can't kill these canola superweeds,
which are sprouting up in wheat fields and other areas
where farmers don't want them, Canada's expert panel on
biotechnology says.

Three types of canola, each engineered with genes to resist
one type of weedkiller, have merged into new varieties
resistant to many pesticides. Instead of helping farmers
avoid weeds, the canola itself has become the weed.

The superweed-canola is especially bad in the Prairies,
where canola is a multibillion-dollar crop, says a report
released yesterday from the Royal Society of Canada's
biotech experts.

The biotech industry has been "naive" in thinking that
good farming methods alone will hold superweeds at bay,
the report says.

And the panel warns that as the next generation of
genetically engineered crops becomes more complex, it
will be tougher to head off the superweeds of the future.

Canola "is the classic example" of a superweed, said
Brian Ellis, a co-chair of the panel and molecular biologist
from the University of British Columbia.

Canola varieties such as Liberty Link and Roundup Ready
were engineered to use with a pesticide [sic] (such as
Roundup). The idea was that a farmer would plant canola
resistant to Roundup, then spray the field with Roundup.

Everything except the canola would die.

Where canola is nearly pesticide-proof, it can crowd out
other plants - crops and weeds - in farm fields.

But its resistance to pesticides doesn't help its
survival in the wild, where there are no pesticides.

"The next generation ... is crops that come along
carrying genes thatmake them more frost-tolerant or
drought-tolerant. They have an advantage over their
wild cousins," Mr. Ellis said.

That means they will have a bioengineered advantage in
taking over farm fields and in moving through wild areas.

"Herbicide-resistant volunteer canola planta aare beginning
to develop into a major problem" in the Prairies, the
panel's report says. (Volunteer plants are those that
seed themselves.)

Canola has been farmed for only a few generations and so
it still has some wild tendencies - such as dropping its
seeds before a farmer can harvest them. This plants seeds
for next year.

And plants, the report says, "can be quite promiscuous."
Canola plants will breed with any other canola they
meet, creating the phenomenon of "gene stacking," or
accumulating all the genes originally built into
different strains by different laboratories.

This forces farmers to retreat to "broad-spectrum"
pesticides - chemicals that kill just about anything,
such as 2,4-D. These are chemicals that farmers were
trying to get away from in the first place.

"The point is, technology is still driving agricultural
production along a chemical-dependence route. And I
think that's something the government has to take a
very serious look at," Mr. Ellis said.

Biotech industry reps told the expert panel that
good farming will stop superweeds from evolving.

"This perspective may be unduly naive," the report
says. "In the real world, human error and expediency
may often compromise guidelines for the growing of such
crops."

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