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Environ Biosafety Res. 2004 Jul-Sep;3(3):135-48.

Management of herbicide-tolerant oilseed rape in Europe: a case study on minimizing vertical gene flow.

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Service of Biosafety and Biotechnology, Scientific Institute of Public Health, Juliette Wytsmanstraat 14, 1050 Brussels, Belgium.


The potential commercialization of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) oilseed rape in Europe raises various concerns about their potential environmental and agronomic impacts, especially those associated with the escape of transgenes. Pollen of oilseed rape can be dispersed in space, resulting in the fertilization of sympatric compatible wild relatives (e.g. Brassica rapa) and oilseed rape cultivars grown nearby (GM and/or non-GM Brassica napus). The spatial and temporal dispersal of seeds of oilseed rape may lead to feral oilseed rape populations outside the cropped areas and oilseed rape volunteers in subsequent crops in the rotation. The incorporation of a HT trait(s) may increase the fitness of the recipient plants, making them more abundant and persistent, and may result in weeds that are difficult to control by the herbicide(s) to which they are tolerant. Vertical gene flow from transgenic oilseed rape to non-GM counterparts may also have an impact on farming and supply chain management, depending on labelling thresholds for the adventitious presence of GM material in non-GM products. Given the extent of pollen and seed dispersal in oilseed rape, it is obvious that the safe and sound integration of GMHT oilseed rape in Europe may require significant on-farm and off-farm management efforts. Crucial practical measures that can reduce vertical gene flow include (1) isolating seed production of Brassica napus, (2) the use of certified seed, (3) isolating fields of GM oilseed rape, (4) harvesting at the correct crop development stage with properly adjusted combine settings, (5) ensuring maximum germination of shed seeds after harvest, (6) controlling volunteers in subsequent crops, and (7) keeping on-farm records. The implementation of the recommended practices may, however, be difficult, entailing various challenges.

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