Genetically Modified Cotton Contamination Caused More By Mishandling Than Cross-Pollination

cotton plant photo

photo: flydime/Creative Commons

A new study has just been published in the online journal PLoS One examining the causes of contamination of non-genetically modified cotton fields by genetically modified strains. Rather than being caused by cross-pollination, as has been believed, the study finds that mishandling of seeds is the far, far greater cause of GM plants being found in conventional plots. Mongabay sums up the findings:

In the fields tested by the researchers, fewer than 1 percent of all conventional cotton plants produced genetically modified Bt seed as a result of insect cross-pollination. The researchers argue that in fact, the main problem is that GM seeds are often mistakenly mixed with regular seeds. Sometimes, this happens before the seeds are even sold. When the researchers tested one bag of supposedly "conventional" seed, for instance, they found that it actually contained 28% GM seed. There was also human error during the planting process: in one field, a row designated as conventional was accidentally sown with GM seed. Because the GM and regular seeds look identical, these types of problems are difficult to detect.

Remember that this research was on GM cotton specifically, so it'd be wrong to extrapolate this to the causes of contamination in other crops. That said there are two issues that immediately pop to mind.

Serious implication 1: No matter the cause of contamination of conventional crops by GM crops, if you're an organic grower your certification goes out the door--no matter that it was entirely unintentional.

Serious implication 2: As other recent research in India has shown, poor practice with GM cotton planting may also be behind growing pest resistance. There, it appears that genetically modified cotton plants designed to be resistant to insect pests is not working out so well, with insects that should be killed by the Bt toxin in the plants living and reproducing on them.

Read the original report: Pollen- and Seed-Mediated Transgene Flow in Commercial Cotton Seed Production
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More on Genetically Modified Crops:
GM Cotton Fails - Insect Pests Thriving on Indian Plants When They Should Be Dead
Bush Admin Officials Advised Retaliation Against Europe For Rejecting GM Crops: Wikileaks
Ireland Says Not In This Country: Bans Genetically Modified Crops
India Suspends First GM Food Crop Introduction - Environment Minister Wants More Tests

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