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Sent: 05 July 2002 09:26
Subject: 108: Developing countries and biotechnology
[Thanks to Dr. Gallego-Beltran from Colombia for sharing his thoughts with us. Today is the last day for submission of messages...Moderator]
I have noticed that the participation in this conference of members from developing countries is more passive (readers) than active (writers). Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the lack of basic research in biotechnology and, because of that, most of the data are coming from developed countries, where, as I have noticed through the conference, it seems to be a split between scientists working for academic institutions and those working for the industry.
One of the reasons for the almost non-existent basic research in biotechnology in developing countries is the believe that the problems for our countries are to be solved in and by developed countries. Once the solution is obtained, the role of poor countries is just to apply the solutions created for them. At this point, the initial testing and application of the solution is then considered as biotechnological research by the research programs and institutions of poor countries, moreover, if due to lack of resources, they are funded by the companies developing them. The same activities would be considered as technology adjustement/transfer in rich countries. At this point one question arises: Why these initial applications are not conducted in developed countries, before being released to poor ones ?
I commented that it seems to be a split between scientists in developed countries, that would be not only philosophical but also methodological. This debate is a very healthy and teaching situation for us (poor countries), and must call our attention to the risks of implementing, adopting and consuming biotechnologies for which agreement about their benefits and risks has not been reached yet.
As it has been concluded in other Biotech conferences, biotechnology itself will not solve problems, especially in developing countries. Some other solutions (social, economical, political) need to be adopted before, or simultaneously with, the implementation of biotech approaches. Because of that, we should encourage the development of basic research for the development and use of GE materials only in those cases where no other conventional or traditional approach would bring a solution for the problem to be tackled.
I strongly agree with Roberto Verzola (message 105, July 3) on the point he made about how retaining and keeping agricultural systems without GE organisms until the risks of their introduction will be better known, is a potential advantage to reach selective markets, and also for the keeping of our biodiversity (of which Colombia is rich). By the way, the developed countries, where selective and increasingly more careful and truly informed consumers do not want to buy GM-foods, are in most cases the same countries from where biotech companies are putting pressure on the poor countries to introduce and use GM materials in order to produce "better" food.
The point recently made on the development of poplars with low lignin content [Joe Cummins, message 104, July 3...Moderator], is very useful to illustrate a final thought. The use, and sometimes abuse, of paper does not occur in developing countries. So, would it be better to introduce a transgene in order to keep satisfied the world´s consumism ? Or would it be better to change human behaviour and make the best of our natural (non genetically modified by man) resources?. Should we - as privileged and rational species - show and develop mechanisms to correct the problems caused because of our behaviour, or try to modify and force, without fully understanding the consequences, other species behaviour for our own egoism and sake?
Sorry for not contributing with any research "FACTS or DATA". I just wanted to share my thoughts!.
Juan F. Gallego-Beltran (MV., MSc., Ph.D.)
Head National Research Program in Animal Health
CORPOICA - Colombia
e-mail: juanitoscience (at) yahoo.co.uk
Sent: 05 July 2002 15:39
Subject: 109: The gene flow discussion
I have carefully followed the postings in what was supposed to be a scientific discussion on "Gene flow from GM to non-GM populations in the crop, forestry, animal and fishery sectors". There have been some interesting factual contributions. However, despite the periodic efforts of the Moderator to steer discussion back to that topic, disappointingly but predictably the listserv was sometimes misused by overt and covert spokespersons of political and other groups, and by some individuals, as a platform to parade their agendas, prejudices or unshakeable fundamentalist positions on GM generally. As this session reaches its end, may I appeal (yet again) for a more rational approach to discussion.
I have no connection with, or interest in, any GM company. As a food scientist, I am neither "root-and-branch" for nor against GM. Scientists should not be "root-and-branch" anything, except for the methodology of science. However, we are members of society as well as scientists, and have a responsibility towards future generations. Where we see a technology with great potential to be of contributory benefit for posterity, we must not be disinterested observers standing on the sidelines and merely observing potential problems or hazards. We (society, and scientists as part of it) have a responsibility to apply a HACCP approach to identify any hazards and bring science and technology to bear to address and solve any problems. [The Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point System (HACCP) is a systematic approach to food safety...Moderator].
"As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Wisdom of the Sands (1948))Prof J Ralph Blanchfield, MBE
Sent: 05 July 2002 17:16
Subject: 110: Gene flow in developing countries - fish, forests
In reply to message 109 (July 5) regarding lack of focus on the central issue of gene flow, I wish to refocus clearly on that problem. The theme of this conference is "the potential importance and impact of gene flow from genetically modified (GM) crops, forest trees, fish or animals to non-GM populations, with particular focus on developing countries."
While others have commented that the important issues are impacts of GM plants or animals on political, economic, social, and pathological of developing countries, those issues have been addressed in other forums. The focus of this conference is gene flow from GM to non GM organisms. The primary impact of gene flow is ecological, secondary impacts may be political, economic, social, and pathological. Also of note, gene flow does not include invasive exotics (GM or otherwise). With invasive exotics, the genes do not flow from one organism to another; they invade by numbers rather than by genes.
These restrictions bring to focus exactly what GM species (plant or animal) present a risk due to gene flow. Gene flow can only occur with species that already exist in developing countries. Many of the domesticated plants came from developing countries, including, but not limited to: rice, papaya, cassava, eucalypti trees, maize, and tomato. Many domesticated animals have their origin in developing countries but the species of perhaps greatest concern is tilapia, which come to us from Africa. The world market for tilapia is growing at record pace and GM tilapia have been developed. The concern is what happens if these GM species find their way back to their global centers of origin?
Some have argued that invasive species are a greater concern than GM organisms in their centers of origin. While I agree that introduced invasive species can have devastating effects on ecosystems, GM organisms introduced into their centers of origin have the potential to be just as devastating. However, that does not mean that all GM organisms introduced into their centers of origin will result in harm. In fact, it is easier to determine risk from species that spread by gene flow than it is to determine potential risk from invasive species. The reason for this conclusion is that a species which exists in an ecosystem provides a control against which to compare net fitness of GM species. For an introduced species, there is no real control because of the near infinite unknown biotic interactions that a new species can have in a community.
As discussed earlier, we can predetermine impacts of genetic modification on net fitness and from that get a feeling as to the risk of the GM organism. For example, what will happen if GM tilapia escape into Africa. If the genetic modification results in a net increase in fitness, the transgene will spread into the population. The harms that may result from this spread may not be known or knowable before hand. In a well established community, each species niche has coevolved with others with natural constraints. If the niche characteristics of the GM organism are greatly different, this will cause conflicts with the coevolved species and community disruption can results.
Forestry may present another area of concern because rain forests primarily occur in developing countries. From the background document "The traits that have so far been considered for potential genetic modification of forest trees are herbicide resistance, reduced flowering or sterility, insect resistance and wood chemistry." The greatest concern here is insect resistance, such as a Bt tree. The research of N. Stewart clearly shows that such modification can increase fitness of plants in natural environments. [See message 69 by Bill Muir, June 22...Moderator]. Further, pollen and seeds from trees can be carried great distances. If such a GM tree became established in a rain forest, the increased fitness could result in a reduction in species diversity and cascading ecological impacts over periods of 100's of years. [Regarding traits of interest for GM forest research, the Background Document to this conference, said that they "include herbicide tolerance and pest resistance (as for crops), but also a range of other features, such as delayed flowering (so that trees can be harvested before they pollinate) or lowered amounts of lignin (to reduce the costs and environmental pollution associated with paper-making)...Moderator].
All of this brings to focus the need to gather data on net fitness of GM organisms. An alternative is to limit gene flow by induction of sterility, provided the induction has a low probability of failure. Here is where GM technology itself can help address the issue. Biological containment is possible through knocking out genes needed for reproduction. Two or more of these methods applied on one species results in a redundant safety system with a high degree of confidence.
William M. Muir, Ph.D.
1151 Lilly Hall
W. Lafayette, IN 47906
bmuir (at) purdue.edu