Attack of the Giant Killer Canola?

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First tomatoes, now canola, next carrots.

Sigh. Last week, a couple of researchers from the University of Arkansas breathlessly revealed that they had found canola genetically enhanced to resist herbicides growing "wild" along North Dakota roadsides. First, the idea that canola is growing "wild" is risible. What is canola? It is a domesticated rapeseed oil plant that was modified (bred) to taste less bitter and which got its name from the acronym CANadian Oil, Low Acid. It is chiefly grown as a source for food oils and feed. No matter where it is found canola is a crop species, not a wild one. In the old nomenclature such plants were called "volunteer." Apparently, the preferred and more ominous term is now "feral."

First, considering that rapeseed is not native to North America (its ancestors hail from Eurasia) and that about 90 percent of the canola planted in North Dakota is genetically enhanced to resist herbicides, it is not at all surprising that the researchers found that 86 percent of the canola growing along roadsides is too. So are North Dakota's wildlands doomed to being overwhelmed by mutant canola? No. The NPR story reporting the "escape" of the biotech canola quoted a couple of rather sanguine researchers:

"I wouldn't lose any sleep over it," says Mike Wilkinson, a researcher at Aberystwyth University in the U.K. Wilkinson has studied the spread of conventional canola in the U.K., and says that while it's common for the seedlings to spread, they don't fare well in the wild.

Wilkinson says that just because the plants are genetically modified, doesn't mean they'll be more successful than wild plants. In this particular case, herbicide resistance will provide little edge to plants growing in areas that, almost by definition, don't receive many herbicides. "It's very difficult for either of these transgene types to give much of an advantage, if any, in the habitats that they're in," he says, referring to the genetically modified canola.

Linda Hall, a researcher at the University of Alberta in Canada, agrees. She's studied colonies of genetically modified canola in that country for years, but says that they haven't spread far beyond the roads. "It's pretty spoiled — it's used to growing in well-fertilized, clean seedbeds without competition, so it does not do well if it is having to compete with other plants," she says.

If someone thinks that roadside canola is a weed (definition: a plant that's where you don't want it to be), there's no big problem controlling it. As assistant director of the U.S. Canola Association Dale Thorenson notes:

"Volunteer biotech canola is easily managed through mowing, tillage or one of several herbicides that do not contain the active ingredient (glyphosate or glufinosate) to which the canola is resistant."

In other words, unlike Killer Tomatoes, it doesn't take playing an excruciatingly bad song [office warning] to annihilate escaped canola.

Belated hat tip to frequent Reason commenter Suki.

NEXT: I'm Very Sorry But We Have to Enforce a Pointless Law We Don't Like Because Someone Reminded Us it Was There

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  1. For a second there, I thought some “progressive” was going to tell me that I could no longer use canola oil.

    1. Thanks again for the hat tip Ron!

  2. Escaped Canola

    If I weren’t unduly obsessed with my mission of stamping out rampant clich?s, I’d comment that Escaped Canola would make a great band name.

  3. You said rapeseed twice.

  4. Feral rapeseed, Ron? I’m sorry, but this doesn’t sound good. I wouldn’t be bending over in the cabbage patch any time soon, if I were you.

    1. Shouldn’t you be at home working on your next Oscar Wilde novel?

    2. that is why they call it canola oil, natch. Rapeseed oil didn’t test very well.

  5. about 90 percent of the canola planted in North Dakota is genetically enhanced to resist herbicides, it is not at all surprising that the researchers found that 86 percent of the canola growing along roadsides is too.

    Does that mean the non-gmo plants are more invasive/volunteery/feralistic? So basically, exactly the opposite of peoples fears. Nice.

  6. In this particular case, herbicide resistance will provide little edge to plants growing in areas that, almost by definition, don’t receive many herbicides.

    Maybe not yet, but once Monsanto takes over the world they’re going to seed clouds with chemicals so that it RAINS PESTICIDES.

  7. Cross it with marijuana & the greenies will love it. Problem solved.

  8. I prefer the old name for the crop.

    Biggar, Saskatchewan used to have a sign at town limits: “Welcome to Biggar, Land of Rape and Honey.”

    1. That’s where Ministry got the name of their album.

  9. Environmentalists: the ultimate aesthetic conservatives

  10. Alt-text! I’m proud.

  11. In the counties in which i work and live much of the weed control along public roads is done with a propane torch.

    Is the canola genetically modified to be fire resistant?

  12. No time to read every word of this posting, but am I correct in my understanding that the Canadians have bred a plant that’s running amok in the U.S. and can rape our citizens? I’m all for a great relationship with our neighbors to the north, but I think this might be a little too much.

    1. Canadians have bred a plant that’s running amok in the U.S. and can rape our citizens?

      I suppose you could put it that way….

      1. Was this in NAFTA or something?

        1. In the fine print.

          Consider this: You are driving across North Dakota for what seems like forever. You had a few beers and you haven’t seen a gas station or anything else for hours. Your bladder is screaming for relief, so you pull over an piss on the yellow plants along the roadside, not realizing that it is GMO Canola.

          You realize that something horrible has just happened. Yes! The Canadians have polluted your precious bodily fluids!

          1. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

            Good thing I live in Florida.

  13. Weak, weak, bait for Organic Girl.

  14. For an excellent site tracking GM Foods from a science standpoint, bookmark:

    http://www.biofortified.org/

  15. Ron, canola is a crucifer, so please lay off the rotten attack of the killer solanum jokes.

    The real horror is this Frankenrabe mutating into feral broccoli

  16. Thanks for the hat tip after chatting about this on email over the weekend.

    1. We chatted about it also, so I wouldn’t take it personally.

    2. Removing sarcasm tags now 🙂 Thanks for the real hat tip above!

  17. “First tomatoes, now canola, next carrots.Sigh. Last week, a couple of researchers from the University of Arkansas breathlessly revealed that they had found canola genetically enhanced to resist herbicides growing “wild” along North Dakota roadsides.”

    Mr. Technocrat, why did you miss the point? Was it an accident? Was it a coincidence? Or was it conspiracy?

  18. This material literally “fell off the back of a lorry” and that is why it is there. The ecologists reporting this are using incorrect ecological terminology presumably to be widely cited. The plants are not in the wild (natural, pristine ecosystems), but are in ruderal (human impacted ecosystems). If the road authorities continue to us Round-up herbicide for roadside weed control, they will probably remain. The herbicide resistance will be of no value in wild ecosystems, as herbicides are not used in the wild, and any canola, transgenic or not, has a tinker’s chance in hell to remain alive in the wild.

  19. So glad everyone is so confidant of the outcome!

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