More genetically modified crops found growing in South Korea

Posted on : 2013-06-05 16:55 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Genetically modified crops get into local environment through sloppy handling, and could endanger local plant life


By Kim Jeong-su, environment correspondent


According to a report by a government-affiliated institute, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of prohibited genetically modified crops (GMC) being released into the natural environment during the process of import and distribution. The modified DNA contained in these crops could threaten the ecosystem if they contaminate related species.

A report on monitoring and management of living modified organisms in the natural environment was released recently by the National Institute of Environmental Research (NIER). The institute collected 626 samples of four main genetically modified crops (corn, soybeans, cotton, and rapeseed) in 2012 from the area around major ports in Korea where imported GMCs are unloaded, around factories where GMCs are processed, around livestock breeding areas (the final consumer of GMC feed), and along the routes by which GMCs are transported from ports to the final consumer. Analysis of these samples found genetically modified DNA in 42 samples from 19 regions.

By plant species, genetically modified corn was most commonly found, turning up in six cities and seven counties such as Pyeongtaek and Yongin in Gyeonggi Province, Wonju and Cheolwon and Hoengseong in Gangwon Province, and Eumseong in North Chungcheong Province. Genetically modified cotton was detected in 7 samples from three cities or counties, and rapeseed was found in five samples from five cities or counties.

A sharp increase in the number of cases of GMC environmental exposure was observed in 2012 compared to 2009-2011. In 2009, the NIER report found GMCs in eight locations in South Korea, and that this bumped up to 10 in both 2010 and 2011. The number of municipalities with at least one case of GMC exposure increased from 8 in 2009 to 22 in 2012.

The majority of GMCs that were discovered were single organisms that had taken root when seeds fell to the ground during storage or transportation. In the areas around some livestock farms, investigators also discovered entire colonies of these plants.

There are no documented cases of GMCs that were spilled in this way actually threatening the environment in South Korea. However, the NIER said in its paper that there are a number of troubling indications about the effect that living modified organisms have on the natural ecosystem and on the agricultural ecosystem. These indications, it said, have been reported on multiple occasions in the areas where these crops were first cultivated.

Some of the disturbing signs cited in the report were changes in microorganisms in the soil, the decimation of herbivorous arthropods by the pest-resistant genes (even though these were not the target of those genes), and the destruction of the food chain. A particular point of concern is the fact that there is a possibility that the modified DNA in these plants could migrate into other plants.

“Because plants are not quarantined, they can reproduce with similar species, and it is possible that the modified DNA could move to other plants,” said Lee Byeong-yun, manager of plant resources at the National Institute of Biological Resources. “If this happens, it could create a number of undesirable situations. It might prevent these species’ natural DNA from being expressed.”

“There is a possibility that the pest-resistant and herbicide-resistant genes in the GMOs could accidentally enter plants they were not intended for through handlers’ carelessness,” said Seo Jae-hwa, a researcher on the Biosafety Research Team at NIER.

“However, the development of most of these genetically modified crops involves sterilizing them. This means that it is very unlikely that they would cause the same level of ecological damage as the American bullfrog or the burr cucumber even if they were released into the environment,” Seo added.


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