56° Good Morning
56° Good Morning
LifestyleHome and Garden

Genetically modified plants escape into the wild

Canola plants

Canola plants Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Great. Humans have done it again. First, the Yangtze river dolphin extinction, then the Gulf oil spill, and now this. Not that I didn't see it coming. I did. You know, it's always worse when you do see it coming, especially if you're helpless to stop it. I mean, how stupid are we? Sometimes I feel that entrusting the earth to us was a move akin to trusting a 3-year old with a box of matches in a gas station.

So, what did we do this time? Remember my last post about Monsato, the biotech company that brilliantly came up with genetically modified seeds? Those are seeds whose genetic makeups have been altered in ways nature did not intend by impregnating them with a gene from something natural, like another plant or insect, or something unnatural, like a chemical pesticide.  This is done for many reasons: To increase yield, to make plants resistant to weed killers that are sprayed on fields, etc. Since the early 1990s, some weird things have been genetically mixed into seeds, including Roundup weed killer and bacteria.

If your eye is on plant production and feeding a hungry world, it might sound good on the surface - if you don't give it any thought -- but the devil is lurking in the details. Consider that some scientists contend that Roundup is an endocrine disrupter that can cause gene damage in humans and animals. And now we're eating plants grown from seeds that contain it. And what's wrong with mixing rice with dandelions? Besides the obvious -- dandelions don't belong in rice -- what if someone is allergic to dandelions? And it's not like dandelions would be listed with the ingredients on a box of rice. Would it definitely spur an allergic reaction? I don't know, but that's not really the point. The point is that once we've messed with our food, there is no going back. It's like we've become a nation of Dr. Frankensteins, messing with nature for "the greater good."

In the post I mentioned earlier, I wrote about concerns that windblown cross-pollination could affect conventional and organic seeds grown on farms near those growing genetically modified plants. Eventually, there might not be any pure seeds left. And then  what if some scientists a few years from now are able to link GM seeds to a disease like they did with cigarettes? How could we go back if there are no pure seeds left? We're digging ourselves the mother of all holes with this one.

And today, the news is that fields of genetically modified transgenic canola (rapeseed) have been discovered growing rampantly in the wild in North Dakota. Let's think about this for a second: Not only have these plants escaped from farms (isn't that what seeds always do?), but now we have herbicide-resistant plants growing by the side of the road. Can you say out-of-control invasive weeds?

Who's to say they won't choke out natural vegetation and mess with the ecosystem? Certainly not India, which, with its billion starving citizens, has refused genetically engineered seeds. If they don't need them, we certainly don't.

More Lifestyle