In an admirably calm and collected piece, Andrew Pollack writing at the nytimes, reports on a study that will be discussed at the Ecological Society of America meeting. The finding? Canola plant growing by the side of the road (outside of fields) often carry genetically engineered traits for herbicide resistance. It sounds like a fun study to do:
Meredith G. Schafer, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas, and colleagues traversed 3,000 miles of interstate, state and county roads in North Dakota, stopping every five miles and taking a sample of one canola plant if any were growing.
Is this a sign of the end times of agriculture? No.
Dale Thorenson, a former North Dakota farmer who is now assistant director of the United States Canola Association, said there are many weeds, such as leafy spurge, that are not genetically engineered but are far more problematic for farmers than stray canola plants.
Go and read the whole article. I have a feeling this might be the sort of result that will be seized upon by those already opposed to genetic engineering, and the best counter to that is to know and be able to present the full context of the study, instead of simply “OMG, genetically engineered plants in the wild!”
And while not crucially important to the study, this part made me laugh:
Unlike canola, genetically modified corn and soybeans have not established themselves in the wild, even though they are grown on vastly more acres than canola.
“They are super-domesticated and they just don’t really like to go wild,’’ said Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, who studies gene flow in plants.
As a country we may be quite dependent on corn, but it is even more dependent on us for its own survival.