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Genetic engineering: sinister passengers in the Alps

Genetically modified rape has been found alongside Swiss railway tracks. © RichardBartz/wikimediacommons

In Switzerland genetically modified rapeseed is spreading in uncontrolled fashion. Yet its cultivation and use for feeding have been prohibited there since 2008. How is it that such rape is appearing in places where it has no right to be?
Basel and Lugano are separated from each other by 200 kilometres as the crow flies, not to mention the main Alpine ridge. Yet genetically modified rape plants were found in both cities in 2011 and 2012. Botanists took note as this rape was the only plant to survive weed control along railway tracks. Genetic modification had made the plant resistant to the herbicide used.
An investigation has now concluded that the seeds were spread by the transport of grain, and that the grain might well originate from regions where the use of genetic engineering is permitted in crop farming whereby rape may be grown in small quantities. The dangerous cargo then escapes from unsealed goods waggons on their way through the Alps. The transgenic rape thrives alongside the tracks, representing a danger to both cultivated and wild plants. As rape is a native species, the genetically modified plants can mix with unmodified specimens, with unforeseeable consequences. It remains unclear whether other transit routes in the Alps are also affected.
Sources and further information: www.br.de/fernsehen/bayerisches-fernsehen (de), www.testbiotech.org/sites/default/files (de)