British agricultural scientists have found that a genetically modified (GM) variant of rapeseed has cross-fertilized with local wild charlock plants, creating a herbicide-resistant "superweed" in the process. The transformation of a plain charlock into a superweed is something scientists had thought to be "virtually impossible." The resulting charlock plants, which showed no ill-effects after treatment with a normally lethal herbicide, were discovered among many other unaffected plants in a field that had been used to grow GM rapeseed as part of the British government's three-year trials of GM crops.
While British officials were quick to downplay to discovery as insignificant in the larger view of millions of unaffected plants, other experts aren't so sure. Ecological geneticist Brian Johnson, a member of the UK's scientific group assessing the farm trials, told reporters, “You only need one event in several million. As soon as it has taken place the new plant has a huge selective advantage. That plant will multiply rapidly.”
What especially worries environmentalists is that because millions of charlock seeds can remain in the soil for 20-30 years before germination, it would be nearly impossible to remove any of the genetically modified strains. Potential problems such as these are what led many other European Union representatives, especially the French and Greek delegations, to seek an outright ban on GM rapeseed.