For the first time in the United States, populations of genetically modified organisms were found to be growing in the wild in North Dakota – along roadsides, in ballparks and cemeteries- and in some cases, have been cross-pollinating to create new plants that are resistant to several strains of herbicides.
University of Arkansas graduate students traveled 3000 miles in the state of North Dakota and stopped every five miles on interstates, state and county roads to find out where exactly Franken-canola flowers were growing.
The seeds of these pretty yellow flowers are used to make the popular canola oil, used in frying and baking all over America and beyond. Originally used to lubricate steam engines under the name rapeseed oil, canola oil was renamed for marketability and is now the third most popular vegetable oil for human consumption in the world.
What the researchers found in the 406 plants they sampled was that 80% of them had at least one transgene, which is a genetically modified gene. Canola flowers were not only found along roadsides, where one would expect the seeds to blow off farm trucks and take hold, but also in “the middle of nowhere,” including grocery store parking lots, ballparks and cemeteries.
Moreover, in at least two of these plants, the cross-pollination had created pesticide-resistant strains, resulting in canola plants that are resistant to both LibertyLink and Roundup Ready, two of the most popular commercial pesticides used today.
This study shows that genetically modified canola can survive and even thrive in the wild for decades. Some have argued the case that genetically modified plants are much less hardier than ‘natural’ plants and therefore would be unable to take over existing populations or even survive in the wild. However the graduate students found that in some cases, clusters of canola plants were as tightly packed as they are in farms.
It also highlights the lack of proper monitoring and regulation of genetically modified crops in the United States, a stark contrast to Europe where GMO’s are strictly controlled, labeled and often banned.
Although genetically modified plants had been found growing wild before in Canada and Japan, this was the first instance of such populations found in the U.S. The findings also are of interest because in the past, farmers whose fields were found to have these patented, genetically modified seeds growing taken to court by the company that created the trademarked plants (Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser).
The study also shows that once out into the wild, these genetically modified plants may cross-pollinate and create entirely new plants that are resistant to more than one herbicide.
What does this mean for you? Until food labels in the U.S. reflect the true ingredients of your groceries, try to shop locally at farmer’s markets whenever possible. Ask the farmer what kinds of seeds and herbicides he or she uses. Shop for organic food items and reduce the amount of canola oil you use for cooking. And write your congress women and men to let them know it is not appropriate for corporations to be releasing their genetically modified crops into our beautiful America. The flowers may be pretty, but the possible consequences of letting GMO’s free in the wild are not.
Photo by Paraflyer