Fort Collins, CO—A newstudypublished inPLOS ONEby researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Washington has found evidence of genetically modified alfalfa contaminating feral populations of the plant.

Ranked number five in economic value and acreage, alfalfa is the most recent genetically engineered crop to be commercialized, says the study, and because it is a perennial and insect pollinated species, the potential for cross-contamination has been widely recognized. The researchers surveyed 6,000 km of rural roads and a total of 4,580 sites across three counties (Fresno County, CA, Canyon County, ID and Walla Walla County, WA) for the occurrence of feral alfalfa, and observed feral alfalfa in 475 of these sites.

Samples taken from feral sites were then tested for the protein that creates glyphosate resistance. Overall, feral plant sites were relatively rare across the study area, which were about 4.4% of the random sites. However, all three sites had occurrence of transgenic plants, accounting for 32.7%, 21.4% and 8.3% of feral plant sites in Fresno, Canyon and Walla Walla Counties, respectively.

“To our knowledge, our study is the first to confirm that alfalfa has joined oilseed rape as a genetically engineered crop that has dispersed beyond cultivated fields,” write the authors. “It seems unlikely that the low levels of transgenic populations we observed in 2011 and 2012 could cause measurable levels of adventitious presence (i.e.,≥ 0.1% AP) in conventional seed lots. However, if grower adoption rates match those of GE cotton, soybean, corn and oilseed rape, the occurrence of transgenic feral populations will increase, and negative consequences may become evident at some point.”

They suggest that best management practices would be to limit seed spillage and control feral plants along public roadways in alfalfa hay and seed production areas to ensure the coexistence of GMO, non-GMO and GMO-sensitive producers.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine Online 2/5/2016