The Science on Canola

In the “Academic Report for 2008-2009” by the College of Agricultural Sciences, Oregon State University, August 2009, the following was published about the decisions surrounding the Canola Protected District:

“Healthy planet: Protecting an agronomic treasure”

“Canola holds promise as a biofuel crop for Oregon, but is highly prone to escape from cultivation.
It readily cross-pollinates with important vegetable seed crops, and promotes disease and insect pests that have economic impacts on Oregon’s vegetable and vegetable seed production.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s director Katy Coba ultimately ruled in favor of continued protection for the state’s historic seed production district when grass seed and grain producers sought to undo these traditional prohibitions so that they might add canola to their rotations.

Russ Karow, head of the Department of Crop and Soil Science and Mark Mellbye, OSU Linn County Extension, listened to months of testimony and presentations from both sides of the issue. Interim dean Bill Boggess praised Karow’s leadership abilities in the face of a controversial and difficult process. Koba acknowledged the efforts of Tom Chastain, Daryl Ehrinsing, Mike Halbleib, Amy Dreves, and Carol Mallory-Smith, all of the Department of Crop and Soil Science; Cindy Ocamb, of the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology; Jim Myers, Department of Horticulture; and Bill Jaeger, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, all of whom provided the committee with underlying research, and permitted a decision to be made on the basis of the science.”

In the “Review of Canola Literature” by Carol Mallory-Smith, James Meyers, Michael Quinn, Oregon State University stressed the following:

“Very few other regions of the world have the climate to produce high quality Brassica vegetable seed. In fact, western Washington and Oregon combined produce nearly all (>90%) of the European cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga and turnip seed, and a substantial portion (20 – 30 %) of radish, Chinese cabbage and other oriental Brassica vegetable crops.”

“Transgenic [GMO] canola was introduced in Canada in 1995 and was overwhelmingly accepted by growers.  In 2005, only 10 years after the introduction, 82% of the canola produced was transgenic (Beckie et al. 2006). In North Dakota, more than 360,000 hectares of canola are planted annually.  Transgenic [GMO] canola was introduced in 1999 and by 2001 over 70% of the canola was transgenic.  The specialty seed crop industry is fearful that the same trend would occur in Oregon and Washington. Transgenic [GMO] canola is already produced in Oregon but not within the Willamette Valley where Brassica vegetable crops are produced.”

Bees can carry canola pollen for miles:
“Bees are known to pollinate canola.  Most bees forage close to the hive but there are reports of movement up to 4 km (Ramsay et al. 1999; Thompson et al. 1999).  Because loose pollen grains can be picked up in a hive a 4 km distance flying distance could result in pollen being moved 8 km.”

Canola is impossible to control:
“Gene movement via seed: Seed is moved by humans during planting, harvest, cleaning, and marketing. Canola seed is also likely moved by birds, insects, and rodents.”

“Legere et al. (2001) also reported that the seed will survive at least 4 years after the crop was grown….Seeds survived longer if buried (Pekrun et al. 1998).… Secondary seed dormancy allows seed to survive more than one season and produce a persistent seed bank.”

Canola is highly weedy, even in colder climates:
“Weediness of volunteer crop plants: Volunteer canola (plants that are produced from seed from previous production) can be a significant weed problem in subsequent crops (Thomas et al. 1998; Kaminski 2001).  Kaminski reported that volunteer canola was the fourth ranked weed in Manitoba.  Although canola that escapes from cultivation does not generally survive in undisturbed habitats, it does survive in areas adjacent to agricultural sites (Warwick et al. 1999; Beckie et al. 2000).  Canola is often found on roadsides and field edges.”

GM Canola contamination cannot be prevented:
“Seed production contamination: In Canada in 2002, 25 certified seed lots of nontransgenic [non-GMO] canola were tested for the presence of transgenic canola - all but one had detectable levels of transgenic seed (Friesen et al. 2003)…This study provides strong evidence that it will be difficult to prevent the introduction of transgenic [GMO] canola into an area even if there was a provision to only allow conventional canola production in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.”

Oregon already has genetically modified plants that have escaped into unwanted areas.  In fact, it is believed Oregon was the location of the first escaped GMO in the USA, creeping bentgrass.

* Read more about Creeping Bentgrass...