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Spread of volunteer and feral maize plants in Central Europe: recent data from Austria

Pascher, Kathrin
Environmental sciences Europe 2016 v.28 no.1 pp. 30
Mediterranean climate, climatic factors, corn, corn cobs, crops, environmental assessment, feral animals, food safety, habitats, inflorescences, monitoring, pollen, risk assessment, seeds, soil, transgenes, transgenic plants, volunteers, winter, Austria, Central European region, Spain
The occurrence of volunteer maize plants in subsequent crops as well as of feral maize plants in non-agricultural areas is an essential issue in risk assessments of genetically modified (GM) maize, with regard to possible contamination of natural habitats with GM material and as contribution to the total adventitious GM content of the non-GM final product. The appearance of feral maize plants has been confirmed for non-agricultural habitats in European areas with Mediterranean climate such as Spain. However, the existence of maize volunteers and feral maize outside cultivation under Central European continental climatic conditions is considered to be extremely unlikely in those winter-cold areas. Here, field observations during 5 years (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2015) in Austria are presented that confirm the occurrence of volunteer and feral maize under Central European climatic conditions. Most of these plants produced fertile inflorescences with viable pollen and fully developed cobs. Maize kernels may reach the soil by disintegration of cobs due to disease, using crushed maize cobs for game-feeding, left overs in manure dispersed during fertilisation or from transporting and handling of crushed cobs. The evidence of volunteer and feral maize in four Federal States in Austria (Burgenland, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Styria) emphasises the necessity to consider these hitherto under-emphasised factors in an ecological risk assessment (ERA) of GM maize as a possible source for transgenes in non-agricultural habitats, because these plants could act as bridge for the spread of GM material into semi-natural habitats. In accordance with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which states that in principle maize has the potential to survive as a volunteer or feral plant also in regions with cold winters, the investigation of the frequency of their occurrence under Central European conditions should be part of future monitoring programmes in order to assess their potential for permitting transgene spread.