Newsletter 16 -Does the GM genie escape?

Newsletter 16.

25th Janurary 2013

A Tranquility House Newsletter

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Genetically Modified Crops and the global Food System

by Mike Hillard

The problems

I am always concerned about how much information to push out, but as most of the subjects I am covering are of such crucial importance I feel you need the best information I can give as there are big decisions to be made. The ‘Problems’ with GM are many, and as we have seen from Paper 2 – even the expected benefits (Items 1 to 6) turn out to be problems, so as you are going to find that health is involved – I will follow the principles used before and give a lot of information with a summary at the end of each subject.

The full Paper is going to be quite substantial, so each problem is going to be issued in a single Newsletter and at the end, Paper 3 will be published as the complete ‘GM Problems Paper’:

7.   Can and does the GM genie escape, and if so what harm can it do?

Another easy question at least as far as the first part of it goes. Plants reproduce naturally and cross pollinate within their species, so a rape plant will pollinate another rape plant – or another member of the species which in the case of rape happens to be the brassica family. Wheats can pollinate other wheats; potatoes other potatoes and so on.

This is a hugely important question because, if the genetic alterations couldn’t escape into the wider environment: there may be many bad problems with GM but at least they would be geographically contained. The GM developments could then not contaminate the rest of the world – just the region that decided to grow the crops. The trouble is it can escape and has.

Back in 1998/9 many countries in Europe ordered their non-GM rape seed from a company in Canada. It arrived; was sown across many countries, but months later it was learnt the seed had included GM. One option considered was to plough the lot up, but it was simply impossible to make certain all of it would have been destroyed in so many countries at the same time.

I mentioned above that rape is a member of the brassica family – primarily the cabbages which include the cauliflowers, sprouts, broccolis, swedes and turnips. The big problem though is that there are 8 wild and common brassicas around the UK that can be cross pollinated by rape, so once it had flowered there was no knowing where it had gone. It had escaped from a simple error, but it can never be got back.

It is a simple fact, not a theory, that GM pollen will travel often huge distances (it is often windy), so as long as there is a plant within that range that can be pollinated – sooner or later it will be. And from there it travels on again. There are a few interesting notes on this problem:

  • I recall the initial plant free margin around GM crops was 2 metres (6’) which I confess infuriated me when I first heard it. How it was possible for our political system to approve that defies belief – but it did.
  • GM maize in the southern US was found to have contaminated wild maize in Mexico. As this is the home of the wild species, we have polluted the plants’ origins.
  • The EU banned Canadian honey as they could not guarantee it was GM free because of ‘wayward’ pollen from GM crops.
  • “The crops and their pollen can be carried 25 kilometres on prairie winds” – Prof Peter Phillips, University of Saskatchewan.
  • Monsanto are suing farmers all over the place claiming they are due a 2% royalty on everything produced after the initial GM seeds have been bought. But it seems Monsanto are not quite as cute as we imagined because they are now claiming the royalty from famers accidentally growing some GM plants because of pollen drift onto their land from a neighbouring farmer who is growing GMO’s. They not only know it escapes – they are even charging for the privilege of having your produce contaminated see:
    “The plaintiffs in the suit are led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and their complaint is aimed at Monsanto’s so-called “seed police,” whose strong-arm tactics include suing farmers for patent infringement any time pollen or seeds from a farm growing GMO plants nearby drifted onto their land, as was featured in the film Food Inc

So yes it can, yes it will and yes it has escaped. It is as inevitable as night follows day.

Further notes:

  • There are now GM trials on potatoes – and guess where they are? In Bolivia, which is the home of the Potato. An EU research Paper says it is unlikely the GM potato plants will cross contaminate other potatoes as the cross fertilisation usually occurs only with a metre!!!!! Interesting, but then much of what the UN does and says is. Having been there I can assure you there can be some very big winds indeed up on the Andes where the potatoes grow. Having contaminated the wild maize they now want to go at the early potatoes.
  • There are also now GM field trials in the UK with wheat. Yes, here in the UK being conducted by the Rothampstead Institute (John Innes), approved by St Albans Council and our government. They also argue it is “very unlikely” there will be any cross contamination, even though that area has a great deal of land growing wheat.

Mike

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