The first genetically modified superweed has been discovered in the UK - the result of GM oilseed rape crossbreeding with a common weed in farm scale trials, according to new Government research.
Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) said the revelation raises serious concerns about the impact of growing GM oilseed rape in the UK and comes less than a month after the UK tried to persuade other European countries to lift their own bans on growing GM oilseed rape.
FoE said the Government study monitored gene flow from Bayer's herbicideresistant GM oilseed rape to related wild plants during the Government-sponsored farm scale evaluations of GM crops.
At one test site, the researchers found a GM version of the common weed charlock growing in the field, the year after the GM trial.
The plant was resistant to the weed killer used in the GM trial and was confirmed as containing the gene inserted into the GM oilseed rape.
It is the first known case of such an occurrence in the UK and overturns previous scientific assumptions that charlock was unlikely to cross-breed with GM oilseed rape.
Charlock is a common weed found alongside oilseed rape in the UK and mainland Europe.
If GM oilseed rape was grown commercially, herbicide-resistant weeds could become widespread.
Farmers would then have to use more and more damaging weedkillers to get rid of them, with knock-on impacts on the environment.
Bayer has lodged two applications for approval to grow GM oilseed rape with the European Commission. Approval would allow the GM oilseed to be grown in the UK.
FoE said that last month Environment Minister Elliot Morley voted to try to force France and Greece to lift their bans on GM oilseed rape.
The bans were originally put in place in 1998 because of concerns about gene escape into the environment.
Friends of the Earth said Mr Morley justified the British position, saying that he had to vote on the basis of the available science, whilst his department was holding research confirming the risk of gene escape from GM oilseed rape. Mr Morley said on June 24: "We'll vote on the basis of the scientific advice that we've received.
"And they are all saying that as there has been no new evidence brought forward to defend the argument for a blanket ban, there is no reason not to support the commission."
The Minister acknowledged there was widespread public opposition to GM crops which could not be ignored.
FoE's GM campaigner Emily Diamand said: "The Government's trials have already shown that growing GM crops can harm wildlife. Now we're seeing the real possibility of GM superweeds being created, with serious consequences for farmers and the environment.
"What is disturbing is the way the Government appears to have ignored its own evidence in trying to force GM crops on to countries that have a real cause for concern.
"The Government must stop acting as cheerleader for GM crops and start paying attention to its own research, and above all, to the British public."