What if our newest invasive species is one that started in the lab and was unleashed on an unsuspecting world despite abundant warnings from scientists and others? And what if it is not even really “natural” to begin with? And what if this new invasive species, once liberated from a controlled setting, became even more potent and more persistent in the wild? Then you would be talking about genetically modified (GM) canola, which according to a report presented Friday at the Ecological Society of America, is now growing in the wild and is busily evolving into a plant that will outstrip our best efforts to contain it. It also has the potential to cross-pollinate and swap genes with other non-GM wild plants. More than 83% of the wild canola tested by researchers traveling through North Dakota tested positive for GM genes. But this is what’s really terrifying: some of the plants tested positive for resistance to both glyphosphate (Roundup) and glusfosinate (Liberty). Commercial GM canola is resistant to either Roundup or Liberty, not both. The dual resistance evolved in the wild, after the plants had escaped. The wild canola is doing what living things do—mutating and selecting for traits that will best ensure its survival. And all without our help.
A new report by the United Nations has added credence to the view that sustainable grazing and pasture management can significantly contribute to the fight against global climate change. Entitled, “Review on Evidence on Dryland Pastoral Systems and Climate Change,” this paper offers much-needed discussion about the role that pasture can play in our efforts to mitigate carbon emissions and preserve these important carbon-sequestering ecosystems.
Pasturelands are under increasing pressure from development, salinization, overgrazing and transition to annual cropping for grain production (much of which goes to livestock feed). However, if properly managed they represent a carbon sink that could be even greater than forests.
From the FAO website: “Covering some 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land surface and accounting for 70 percent of its agricultural land, the world’s 3.4 billion ha of grasslands can also play a major role in supporting the adaptation and reducing the vulnerability to climate change of over one billion people who depend on livestock for a living.” This is a ringing endorsement for the practices used in outdoor, pasture-based production – they not only produce healthier, safer, tastier food, but can play a vital role in repairing our ecosystems as well.