Making sauteed green beans this year? How about seared brussels sprouts? If you're cooking with canola oil, it probably came from plants that were modified to resist weed killer. And now the canola itself has become a weed.
Canola itself is cultivar of rapeseed, bred in Canada in the 1970s to contain lower levels of erucic acid, which can be toxic to humans at high levels, and glucosinates, a defense mechanism that plants evolved to resist being munched by herbivores. (Glucosinates are what make your brussels sprouts taste bitter, in case you were wondering). Technically, canola is not even a real name — it stands for "Canadian oil, low acid."
Today, canola is one of the continent's biggest cash crops; in 2010, U.S. farmers harvested 1.4 million acres of the plant. About 90 percent of canola is genetically modified. Bayer CropScience and Monsanto are the largest providers of GM canola seeds.
In August, transgenic canola earned the dubious distinction of being the first GMO crop to "escape" the farm field and grow in the wild
. Researchers at North Dakota State University and the Environmental Protection Agency found transgenic canola growing along roadsides throughout North Dakota. The plants had genes conferring resistance to the weed killer Roundup, made by Monsanto, and LibertyLink, made by Bayer.
Wild canola is not an uncommon sight in the west— in many roadside areas, it's considered a weed. But what happens when the weeds are resistant to weed killer?