Canola, of which 93% of the US crop is GM, is mainly used to produce vegetable oil. The genetic modifications are for resistance to herbicides (glyphosate or glufosinate) and for improved oil compositions. Approximately 43% of a canola seed is oil. What remains is a rapeseed meal that is used as high quality animal feed. Canola oil is a key ingredient in many foods and is sold directly to consumers as margarine or cooking oil, and is the third most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world. The oil has many non-food uses, including making lipsticks.


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Genetically modified crops are commonplace in fields across the United States, but a new study suggests that some plants have spread into the wild. A survey of North Dakota has turned up hundreds of genetically modified canola plants growing along roads across the state.

The results, presented Friday at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Pittsburgh, show that the vast majority of feral canola plants in the state contain artificial genes that make them resistant to herbicides. Researchers also found two plants that contained traits from multiple genetically modified varieties, suggesting that genetically modified plants are breeding in the wild.

“What we’ve demonstrated in this study is a large-scale escape of a genetically modified crop in the United States,” says Cindy Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas, who led the study.

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This is not the first transgenic crop to escape into the wild in the U.S.; herbicide-resistant turf grass being tested in Oregon spread as well in 2006. And GM canola is not a regulated plant, “therefore no protocols are required by the regulatory agencies to reduce or prevent escape,” notes ecologist Allison Snow of The Ohio State University. “The next question is: ‘So what?’ What difference does it make if the feral canola or any species that hybridize with it have two transgenes for herbicide resistance?”

Canola modified to resist either the herbicide glufosinate (brand name Liberty) or glyphosate (brand name Roundup) has been available in the U.S. since 1989—and unregulated since 1998 and 1999, respectively for the two herbicides. “These results are not new for Canadian researchers and to be expected if two types of transgenic herbicide-resistant canola are commercially grown,” says Suzanne Warwick of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a government agency.


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