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GM crops 'almost certain to create plant hybrids,' say some researchers

(Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- David Derbyshire, The Telegraph, 10/10/03: Genetically modified crops were dealt another blow yesterday by a study showing that cross-breeding between oilseed rape and its wild relatives was more common than previously thought.

British researchers say the creation of plant hybrids is "almost inevitable" if GM oilseed rape is grown commercially.

However, scientists played down fears that genetic pollution from GM plants could cause havoc in the countryside and said each crop had to be assessed on its own merits.

The findings come from the largest study of its kind into the cross-fertilisation of oilseed rape and its wild relative, Bargeman's cabbage, Brassica rapa. Bargeman's cabbage, also known as wild turnip, usually grows alongside rivers and canals while a weedy variety can be found in arable fields.

There are concerns that GM crops could pass on traits, such as herbicide or insect resistance, to wild relatives. If the resulting hybrid plants are not sterile, these traits would give them an advantage over existing plants with potentially serious implications for local ecosystems.

Of the four GM crops being tested in Britain, wheat and maize have no wild relatives. Sugar beet has one while oilseed rape has six.

The survey, published in the journal Science and led by Dr Mike Wilkinson, of Reading University, used satellite images, fieldwork and DNA tests to predict the number and location of oilseed rape/Bargeman's cabbage hybrids.

They estimated that there were 32,000 hybrids each year alongside rivers and another 17,000 in oilseed rape fields.

Most occur within 30 metres of oilseed rape fields but cross pollination can take place up to three kilometres from fields, they said.

Eastern central England is the region most likely to contain hybrids while Northern Ireland has the least.

Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said GM traits would rapidly find their way into wild plants. "The Government has no choice but to ban GM oilseed rape and keep Britain GM-free."

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/10/10/ngm10.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/10/10/ixhome.html