GENETICALLY MODIFIED plant genes transferred into wild plants during the government’s farm-scale evaluation trials, DEFRA has revealed.
The four-year long trials were spread across 266 sites and ended in 2004.
But DEFRA has only just released findings showing that the herbicide tolerant gene, inserted into the GM oilseed rape under scrutiny, had appeared in charlock – a wild relative of rape.
The gene’s presence was discovered when a sub-set of fields was revisited and wild relatives growing in or around the subsequent crop were tested by herbicide application.
Two Charlock plants showed no reaction to the application of glufosinate-ammonium and a leaf from one plant was taken for analysis.
The gene construct was found to be present and causing the resistance.
The discovery has re-ignited the GM debate with biotechnology proponents playing down the significance of the findings while green campaigners have begun to speak of Britain’s first superweed.
A Friends of the Earth spokeswoman said: “This is the first known case of such an occurrence in the UK.
“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,” the FoE spokeswoman added.
But Paul Rylott, biotechnology expert and consultant, said that the problem was minimal.
“Of 100,000 plants tested only two were resistant.
“To me the result shows that the potential significance of this is being over-egged,” said Dr Rylott.