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CBC broadcast: transgenic canola causing big trouble

(June 22, 2001 -- CropChoice news) -- The following is the transcript of a program about transgenic canola that the CBC televised last night.

ALISON SMITH: There are more worries tonight about genetically modified canola, a controversial plant that was originally designed to help farmers fight weeds. Well, now in some places, the genetically modified canola itself has become a weed. As Kelly Crowe reports, farmers who don't want it are having a tough time controlling it.

KELLY CROWE (Reporter): That's it, standing out above the rest of the crop, western Canada's newest weed, genetically modified canola, popping up where it wasn't planted and isn't wanted. And because it's designed to resist a chemical weed killer, it doesn't die with the rest of the weeds. Dan Karen is with Manitoba Agriculture and Food. He says he's been getting calls from farmers who want to know what to do.

DAN KAREN (Manitoba Agriculture and Food): We're seeing side effects that maybe we haven't seen in the past that maybe raise a few red flags.

CROWE: In this field, the farmer has never even touched a genetically modified canola seed. Still, the canola is growing here, and now plant scientists are trying to solve the mystery of how it got here. The theory, cattle manure. The seed travelling right through the animal into the manure and onto the field, a sign of how much this plant can spread.

MARTIN ENTZ (University of Manitoba): The GM canola has, in fact, spread much more rapidly than we thought it would. It's absolutely impossible to control.

CROWE: Ottawa approved genetically modified canola back in 1996, one of the first varieties to be licensed. In this decision document, the government considered its potential to become a weed of agriculture and its potential to become a plant pest, and decided it would be no worse than regular canola. Today, Steven Yarrow of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency agreed that the canola is now becoming a nuisance, but advised farmers to simply use another chemical. But scientists say it's not that simple. Although other chemicals will kill the canola weed, some can also kill whatever new crop is planted. And in this field, the canola was sprayed with the recommended alternative, and it still survived.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (1): Again, this plant has somehow escaped.

CROWE: And there's another problem. This scientific paper describes a case of a canola that was sprayed with three different chemicals and still won't die.

ENTZ: It's been a great, a wake-up call about the side effects of these GM technologies.

CROWE: Monsanto, the company that created a variety called Round-up Ready Canola, says this is not a big problem. Farmers should simply call the company. Monsanto says it will send people out to pull the plants out by hand. But this law professor says Monsanto may be liable to pay for damages if canola spreads. He says it's a legal question that still hasn't been answered.

MARTIN PHILLIPSON (University of Saskatchewan): I don't see the federal government taking any action at all legislatively or regulatorily at all in this area. I think they will be very reluctant to do so. I think it will have to come down to the cost.

CROWE: For many farmers, genetically modified canola is still a popular choice. But some are beginning to worry that the crop that was supposed to simplify their weed control is starting to make things more complicated.

Kelly Crowe, CBC News, Toronto.