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Published August 24, 2010, 11:00 PM

Gene Wirtz, Underwood, N.D., column: N.D.’s newest ‘weed’: Roundup Ready canola

If I plant Roundup Ready canola, I would get canola volunteers in my other crops, which I can’t kill with Roundup. Controlling them would mean more herbicides and more expense.

By: Gene Wirtz,

By Gene Wirtz

UNDERWOOD, N.D. — I wasn’t really surprised to read that University of Arkansas researchers found volunteer Roundup Ready canola growing “wild” in roadside ditches across North Dakota, according to an August 16 Herald story “GMO canola found growing wild in N.D.,” Page A1).

I already knew that the world of weeds was developing resistance to Roundup. After all, weeds are more nimble than we are in terms of genetic change, with a new generation every year.

So Roundup Ready canola was kind of a resistant weed in the first place — resistant to Roundup and ready and able to invade all kinds of fields.

I used to raise canola myself, but the Roundup Ready stuff put an end to that.

Why?

I use Roundup to control weeds such as Canada thistle and quack grass that affect many of my crops, including flax, peas and lentils.

But if I plant Roundup Ready canola, I would get canola volunteers in my other crops, which I can’t kill with Roundup. Controlling them would mean more herbicides and more expense.

Roundup Ready canola in a lentil field is just a Roundup Ready weed.

So why not use conventional canola seed that isn’t genetically modified?

First, it’s very hard to find. The advent of Roundup Ready and other genetically modified seeds has driven many smaller seed companies out of business and greatly concentrated the seed industry.

Second, if I raised non-GMO canola, I still could get Roundup Ready canola volunteers in my field, and Roundup wouldn’t kill them either.

Besides, technically those Roundup Ready canola plants might be on my land, but their genes would belong to Monsanto.

So there I would sit with Monsanto’s canola invading my fields and facing legal action for pirating Monsanto’s seed.

It may seem ridiculous, but it’s exactly what happened to canola farmer Percy Schmeiser in Canada and many others.

Come to think of it, it doesn’t matter if I raise any kind of canola, because Roundup Ready canola could take root in my field, and I might still face prosecution.

So what happens when Monsanto’s canola takes over the public right-of-way? Is there any reason the state or county should be immune from infringing on the Roundup Ready patent? Can we expect Monsanto to have our governor or county commissioners brought up on charges?

When Roundup Ready canola weeds spread freely over North Dakota and overtake even leafy spurge, will Monsanto be able to drain the state treasury through patent fees and penalties?

If so, maybe some public officials would wake up about the damages GMO crops have done to markets and competition — and maybe nature.

Wirtz is a member of the Dakota Resource Council.

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