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November 16, 2013

New Report on GMO Contamination

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An excellent new report from Testbiotech on the state and prospects of GMO contamination in non-GM crops and wild relatives.
 
The report finds that it’s likely some GM contamination in some places, such as from bentgrass in the US Pacific Northwest, canola in Canada, the US, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere, and cotton in Mexico, has become indelibly entrenched among wild plants.
 
For others, such as corn, rice, and poplar trees, it’s probable that the contamination will become permanent if GMOs keep being pushed into the environment.
 
The modes of contamination are pollen dispersal from field tests and commercial plantings. This is dispersal by wind, insect pollinators, and other means. Seeds can also be carried by wind, floodwaters, birds, eaten by animals and deposited in their droppings. Viable seeds are also part of agricultural transport, which is why feral GM canola infests roadsides, railways, and shipping ports wherever the seed has been transported. Seeds and volunteer plants often linger wherever a GM crop was planted. Meanwhile, wild relatives who have taken up a trait like herbicide tolerance find it easy to encroach on agricultural zones, since they have an advantage over other weeds which lack that trait. This increases the proximity of wild relatives and agricultural crops, which increases the cross-breeding among them.
 
The report finds that as with health risks and food safety, there has been little will among governments to study the rate of contamination or assess the dangers. Just as with the health dangers, it’s been up to independent researchers to scrounge up on their own whatever meager funding they can find to do real research on this. Similarly, the legal safeguards against it are conceptually meager and poorly enforced. It’s not surprising that a government which doesn’t care whether GMOs are safe to eat also doesn’t care that they inevitably contaminate non-GM crops and wild relatives.
 
The report makes a few basic deductions about the rate of GM pollution, among crops and in the wild.
 
*As a rule cultivated crops are less able to survive in the wild and require constant replanting. But crop-wild hybrids may have some advantages, such as insect resistance.
 
*Once the contamination spreads to wild relatives, there’s a much greater chance of its becoming indelible.
 
*Where herbicides are being sprayed, feral herbicide tolerant (HT) crops and crop-wild hybrids which have taken up the HT trait will have an advantage. At the fringe area between cultivation and wild land they may become dominant and then spread beyond. Wind and water drift of glyphosate and other herbicides may aggravate this phenomenon.
 
*In general, invasive species have a lower rate of success among stable ecosystems than among ecosystems in turmoil. Therefore wherever human actions are disrupting ecosystems, including the disruptive effects of climate change, GM-contaminated plants may have a better chance to establish themselves.
 
*Cross-pollinators will spread more rapidly than self-pollinators. The typical length of seed dormancy will help or hinder propagation by the route of stray seeds latent in the soil, or blown by the wind, carried by birds or trucks, etc.
 
*Unlike with most crops, many domesticated grasses like bentgrass, rice, and sorghum are both invasive on their own and remain genetically close to many wild relatives in close proximity. These have a high potential for permanent contamination.
 
*Perennials like trees or alfalfa have a high potential, as they continue to disseminate their contaminated material for many years.
 
*I’ll add that, at least in Monsanto’s dreams (and the courts have done all they can to support these nightmares), the spread of proprietary material confers ownership and control wherever it goes. Therefore it’s an unspoken, perhaps in many cases unconscious, goal of government policy to contaminate as much of agriculture and the environment as possible. This also gives these genes an advantage, wherever the power of the corporate state can exert itself.
 
Contamination of wild relatives is especially hazardous in the crops’ centers of genetic origin, which are the geographic repositories of the biodiversity upon which agriculture depends. These centers of diversity include Mexico for cotton and maize, Andean regions for potatoes, the Mediterranean region for sugar beets and canola, the Middle East for many grains, India for cotton, Southeast Asia for rice and eggplant, China for soybeans and rice.
 
The bulk of the report is a series of regional case studies. Each examines the current knowledge as to the extent of GMO contamination, gives an analysis of how it’s happening, and offers prognostications. The case studies are:
 
Creeping bentgrass in Oregon; cotton in Mexico; maize in Mexico; canola in Canada, the US, Japan, Australia, the EU, and Switzerland; poplar in China; rice in China.
 
I won’t go over all the details here, but encourage you to check it out for yourself. The examples give a broad overview of how contamination occurs, the geographical distances over which it can range, the possible vectors even where no GM crops are being planted, modes of entrenchment amid wild populations, and other aspects of the problem.
 
I’ll only draw special attention to the case of GM canola in the EU, where it was briefly commercialized by Bayer but whose commercialization was revoked in 2007. Bayer was then enjoined to clean up residual contamination within five years. Yet even though the product was commercialized for only a few years and never grown extensively, contaminated plants are lingering persistently in the environment. Thus in 2012 the five-year term had to be extended for another five years.
 
If it’s this hard to clean GMO canola out of Europe, it must be permanently entrenched in Canada and the US, where it’s been grown longer and much more extensively. This example refutes any lies about the system being able to control the spread of GM material and to clean up any contamination which does occur.
 
The report closes with recommendations.
 
 

On the basis of the documented cases and current gaps in knowledge regarding dispersal, interactions
with the environment and long-term ecological behaviour of genetically engineered plants, we recommend
strengthening the precautionary principle and prohibiting releases of genetically engineered
organisms if
 
a. they can persist and invade the environment if they unintentionally escape their containment.
 
b. there are major doubts about whether they can be withdrawn from the environment within a
reasonable period of time if this is urgently required.
 
c. it is already known that they will persist or show invasive behaviour after release into the environment.

 
This report adds to the vast amount of evidence which proves the answers to those ifs.
 
a. They can and will.
 
b. There are.
 
c. It’s known.
 
In truth, by now the precautionary principle has decided once and for all against GMOs. We know that:
 
1. Contamination is inevitable, and will inevitably become indelible.
 
2. No one can predict the long-term results, other than that they’ll diminish biodiversity, which is likely to have only bad, and perhaps disastrous, effects.
 
3. Therefore GMOs can never legitimately be released into the environment. ANY planting of a GMO is a crime, plain and simple.
 
This report provides more evidence for the proposition that humanity cannot co-exist with GMOs, and that GMOs must be totally abolished.

 
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