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Government Study Finds UK's First GM 'Superweed'
25 July 2005
New government research, revealed today , reports on the discovery of the first genetically modified (GM) superweed in the UK - the result of GM oilseed rape cross-breeding with a common weed in the farm scale evaluations (FSE). The exact location of the GM weed is not revealed, but it will have been on one of 23 former FSE sites tested in 12 counties . The revelation raises serious concerns about the impact of growing GM oilseed rape in the UK - and comes less than a month after the UK tried to persuade other European countries to lift their own bans on growing GM oilseed rape.
The government study monitored gene flow from Bayer's herbicide resistant GM oilseed rape to related wild plants during the government-sponsored farm scale evaluations (FSE) of GM crops. At one test site, the researchers found a GM version of the common weed charlock (Sinapis Arvensis) growing in the field the year after the GM trial. The plant was resistant to the weed killer used in the GM trial and was confirmed as containing the gene inserted into the GM oilseed rape. This is the first known case of such an occurrence in the UK, and overturns previous scientific assumptions that charlock was unlikely to cross-breed with GM oilseed rape .
Charlock is a common weed found alongside oilseed rape in the UK and mainland Europe. If GM oilseed rape were grown commercially, herbicide resistant weeds could become widespread. Farmers would then have to use more - and more damaging - weedkillers to get rid of them, with knock-on impacts on the environment. Bayer has lodged two applications for approval to grow GM oilseed rape with the European Commission. Approval would allow the GM oilseed to be grown in the UK.
Just last month the UK Environment Minister Elliot Morley voted to try and force France and Greece to lift their bans on GM oilseed rape . The bans were originally put in place in 1998 because of concerns about gene escape into the environment. Elliot Morley justified the UK position saying that he had to vote on the basis of the available science  whilst his department was holding research confirming the risk of gene escape from GM oilseed rape.
Friends of the Earth's GM Campaigner Emily Diamand said:
"The Government's trials have already shown that growing GM crops can harm wildlife. Now we're seeing the real possibility of GM superweeds being created, with serious consequences for farmers and the environment.What is disturbing is the way the Government appears to have ignored its own evidence in trying to force GM crops onto countries that have a real cause for concern. The Government must stop acting as cheerleader for GM crops, and start paying attention to its own research, and above all, to the British public."
 23 sites were included in the research, in Aberdeenshire, Dorset, East Riding of Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. See www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/real_food/press_for_change/gm_trial_locations/ for details of the trial locations. It is not clear at which site the GM charlock was found. See page 12 of the full report.
 Up until now it was assumed that it would be very difficult for charlock to cross breed with oilseed rape, and even if it did, the offspring would be unlikely to survive. In a review of the evidence by the European Environment Agency in 2000, it was concluded that "there appears to be general agreement that natural gene flow is not likely to occur between B. napus and S. arvensis." (Brasica napus is oilseed rape, Sinapis arvensis is Charlock)
 Despite the UK position, a majority of EU Environment ministers voted to allow countries to keep their national GM bans
 Environment Minister Elliot Morley is quoted on Radio 4's Farming Today programme on 24 June as saying: "We'll vote on the basis of the scientific advice that we've received."
"And they are all saying that as there has been no new evidence brought forward to defend the argument for a blanket ban, there is no reason not to support the commission."
Mr Morley acknowledged there was widespread public opposition to GM crops which could not be ignored.
"But on the other hand we cannot deviate from the scientific advice because otherwise we do leave ourselves open to pressure from commercial companies, for example, and we are not going to bow to that" he said.
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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust
Last modified: Jun 2008