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Sent: 06 June 2002 10:46
Subject: 16: Re: Fundamental considerations in hazard identification of GMOs
[A reminder to participants that the main 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. The previous discussions between Drs. Bradshaw and Wuerthele (in messages 1, 5 and 13), and continued here by Dr. Bradshaw (and by Professor Burke in the next message), relate to whether there are fundamental differences between conventionally-bred or genetically modified organisms. We would request that future messages would focus on the implications of such concerns for GENE FLOW...Moderator].
A reply to comments of Suzanne Wuerthele (message 13, 5 June)
"1. Limiting concern to novel traits limits risk assessors' ability to
identify hazards. Identifying that an organism was created by
recombinant-DNA (rDNA) techniques does not prevent a case-by-case review,
but can be an important alert."
- The U.S. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council disagrees with you and agrees with me: "The same physical and biological laws govern the response of organisms modified by modern molecular and cellular methods and those produced by classical methods.", i.e. it is product, not process, that matters. [This quotation is from the United States National Research Council 1989 report "Field testing genetically modified organisms: Framework for Decisions"...Moderator].
"2. Dr. Bradshaw stated that virtually all eukaryotes contain DNA from
organisms with which they cannot breed, citing as examples DNA which has
been conserved over many thousands of years (mitochondrial and relictual
T-DNA) and which could hardly be compared with transgenic DNA from bacteria
in corn or human DNA in pigs."
- Why not? Horizontal gene transfer is common in evolution.
"3. Dr. Bradshaw incorrectly implied that GMOs are not unique in
transferring exotic genes because nearly all major crops are grown outside
their native geographic range."
- I did not *imply* it, I stated it clearly. Perhaps a concrete example is needed. When Lombardy poplar (a clone of Populus nigra, a species native to Eurasia) produces hybrids in North America with native North American Populus, that represents a transfer of 'exotic' genes.
"However, regardless of where they are grown, conventional crops do not
contain and cannot transfer genes from incompatible species."
- So what? Exotic genes are, by definition, non-native. Whether they are spread sexually or asexually is irrelevant.
"Conversely, a GM crop like Bt corn can transfer exotic bacterial genes both
to modern corn and landraces."
- A crop like non-GM corn can transfer genes to teosinte, as well. Should corn planting be banned where teosinte is native?
"This ability to transfer exotic genes across species is the essence of what
makes GMOs unique: they are gene vectors."
- All sexually reproducing organisms are 'gene vectors' by this definition.
"Dr. Bradshaw correctly pointed out that Agrobacterium moves genes across
wide phyletic divisions. However, Agrobacterium inserts its own genes into
the genome of host plants; it does not transfer genes which are not its own
to a third species."
- So what? Bacterial-plant gene transfers are 'natural,' yet you complain about Bt corn.
"4. Dr. Bradshaw is right that transgenes are not "uniquely" unstable. My
statement was that GMOs are "inherently" unstable because of the way they
are made: they contain genes removed from regulatory controls;"
- Not necessarily, it depends on the particular transgene in question.
"There are already numerous examples of instability (inconsistent phenotype)
in GMOs, the most famous being boll drop and malformation in glyphosate-resistant GM cotton in 1997 in Louisiana.
- This is an example of pleiotropy , not transgene instability. [pleiotropy is the simultaneous effect of a given gene on more than one apparently unrelated trait...Moderator]
College of Forest Resources & Department of Botany
University of Washington
toby (at) u.washington.edu
Sent: 06 June 2002 10:54
Subject: 17: Re: Fundamental considerations in hazard identification of GMOs
I am Derek Burke; my experience lies much more in the area of the safety for human consumption of the products from GM than in environmental issues. I was Chairman of the UK Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes for 9 years, and as such was concerned with the safety evaluation and regulation of the first generation of products from GM.
I want to make two points; the first is to question the initial paragraph of the first contribution from Dr. Suzanne Wuerthele (message 1, 31 May), who starts by saying:
"Because GMOs are fundamentally different from conventionally-bred organisms, they raise novel concerns about their effects on ecosystems at the genetic level and about their behavior in ecosystems at the agricultural level."
I want to know what is the evidence for this broad statement? Certainly it not the starting point for risk evaluation of products of genetic modification in either the US or the UK, and is I suggest more a statement of philosophical belief than one arrived at from evidence. This attitude is very common in Europe and has led to the breakdown of the regulatory approval process since opponents of the use of GM are demanding that the level of 'contamination' is 0% and since this cannot be delivered, then this is effectively a veto on all development. This attitude springs from both a philosophical position (Prince Charles has said that GM is going where God alone should go), and from the attitude of the organic farmers where the presence of any GM material in say, canola, disqualifies growers from organic certification. This regulation has been imposed, in essence, by organic farmers on organic farmers. Having established themselves as rule-makers such certification bodies are now endeavouring to assert them over others who had no part in establishing the rules in the first place! Is this democratic?
So I would like to see the evidence that all GM plants are 'fundamentally different from conventionally-bred' ones. I understand that canola can be rendered herbicide resistant by either GM or conventional plant breeding. Why treat them differently?
My second point is to draw attention to the new issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology (June 2002, Number 6) which is focused on the environmental impact of GM crops. It contains a number of articles directly relevant to this debate.
Professsor Derek Burke
Cambridge CB4 1HD,
Tel/Fax 01223 301159
email: dcb27 (at) cam.ac.uk
Sent: 06 June 2002 11:01
Subject: 18: GM crops, landraces and seed banks
I am an independent consultant in the areas of crop biotechnology, sustainability and communications. My background is in the food and agbiotech industries.
First let me say that, as a scientist, I believe that recombinant DNA technology is a tool offering considerable promise. However, like any technology, it is intrinsically neutral, and can be put to both good and bad uses. We also have to recognise that there is almost never a case of something being wholly good or bad: even highly desirable things may have minor negative effects. As rational beings, we have to decide what we find acceptable on balance.
In the case of crop biotechnology, we have at one extreme those critics who, for a variety or reasons, consider this a "bad" thing and who will misuse data and opinion selectively to support their case. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some ardent supporters whose knee-jerk reaction is to support the science at all costs and refuse to admit that biotechnology is not perfect. The result can be a dialogue of the deaf, since both have equally closed minds.
Fortunately, most people are more open-minded than this, and I hope will continue to contribute to fora such as this. In this spirit, I'd like to put forward some thoughts for comment and discussion:
Landraces have been established locally by selecting the best seed season after season for sowing the next year. They are not fixed (at least in outcrossing crops) because of the regular small degree of pollination by neighbouring crops and the farmer's selection of seed.
Introducing GM crops does not change this situation, it merely introduces one further gene into the equation, amongst the tens of thousands which will be transferred and mixed during natural pollination. The only potential threat to genetic diversity of the crop is that caused by the farmer selecting the best seed each year. But this threat has existed ever since new, better-yielding varieties of a crop have been available to farmers. Naturally, if they are able, they will select the seed which gives them the best crop.
It is for this reason that germplasm banks were established: varieties and landraces supplanted by new varieties with superior yield might well have genes with other desirable traits, perhaps vital for future breeding programmes. I don't believe that the situation is changed one iota by the introduction of highly-regulated GM varieties: farmers will continue to choose seed varieties which yield consistently well, and seed banks will continue to be an important source of genetic variation. If anyone has a different view, I'd be very happy to hear it.
MartinLivermore (at) aol.com
Sent: 06 June 2002 11:38
Subject: 19: GM crops in Africa
My name is Niels Louwaars, working at Plant Research International in Wageningen, The Netherlands, a not-for-profit research institute with joint research projects with partners all over the world.
Even though many interesting topics have been brought up in this discussion already, I would like to comment on the concern mentioned by Jane Morris (message 6, 3 June): "insufficient information is available about the potential for crops to cross-pollinate with African wild relatives". Next to the technology gap it is the information-gap which creates an inequality in the development and use of biotechnologies between North and South.
Irrespective of whether cross fertilisation poses a risk to the integrity of local plants, to biodiversity, food safety or trade (of certified non-GMO-products), information on possibilities for cross fertilisation is basic to analysis of environmental safety. Especially the aspect of cross fertilisation is local. Whereas food safety research from the North can be used for risk analysis in any other country, cross fertilisation needs to be researched taking the local plant populations into account. The concept of "the botanical files" fills this gap. It is a map-based system on which cultivated, weedy, feral and wild populations, can be plotted. Combined with the knowledge on reproductive biology of the species and its relatives in the country/region, this provides exactly the information that Ms. Morris is looking for. Currently, botanists in Eastern Africa are starting to build botanical files for a number of species in their region under the BioEARN programme. Similarly, botanists in the Balkans will do the same under a UNEP-GEF programme later this year. It seems useful to extend this initiative to other regions of the world to contribute to the necessary informed judgement, while at the same time stimulating research on the botanical wealth of nations. [The East African Regional Programme and Research Network for Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy Development (BioEARN) is a programme aiming to build national capacity and competence in biotechnology, biosafety and biotechnology policy in the region - http://www.bio-earn.org ...Moderator]
Niels P. Louwaars
Plant Research International
6700 AA Wageningen
n.p.louwaars (at) plant.wag-ur.nl
Sent: 06 June 2002 12:23
Subject: 20: Gene-containment strategies for GM crops
This is from Bhagirath Choudhary. I work as a researcher on plant biotechnology and regulatory aspects at the National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies (CSIR), India.
The cross pollination between GM and non-GM compatible species is a vital issue as far as the future of GM crops are concerned and is of a considerable interest to breeders and environmentalist in developing countries, though have no/little practical experience. It becomes a powerful weapon for anti GM lobbyist.
Because of awareness, the pure and safe environment is becoming the integral part of individual life. Therefore anything that degrades and causes harm to the environment wouldn't be simply accepted. Therefore, simply, environmental concerns surrounding GM crops are not going to go away. They have to be tackled scientifically. As gene pollution is a major threat impeding the acceptability of GM crops, preventing farmers access to advanced technologies and blocking the growth of industry. Preemptively, the industry should have to take decisive steps to address gene flow from their GM products. To overcome, the CGIAR centers and industry have to innovate, develop and introduce crops and/or products that have the capability to self-contain gene pollution even among compatible species, in the similar way as the industry has developed terminator technologies for commercial purposes. [There are 16 Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers - http://www.cgiar.org/ ...Moderator]
It has been discussed in the literature and recent articles about new molecular strategies for gene-containment. There are various technologies currently under development for addressing gene flow among crops species. To properly address the issue, the CGIAR centers should collaborate with industry to expedite the work on potential technologies for containment of gene flow. Gene-containing techniques under developments are: maternal inheritance, seed sterility (terminator technology is being widely criticized and voluntary abandoned, can also be used for blocking gene flow), male sterility, apomixis, cleistogamy, incompatible genomes, transgenic mitigation and temporal and tissue-specific control via inducible promoters etc. For more information, you may access Dr Henry Daniell's article entitled "Molecular strategies for gene containment in trasgenic crops" in the recent issue of "Nature Biotechnology".[June 2002, Volume 20, pages 581-586...Moderator]
Bhagirath Choudhary, India
bc (at) nistads.res.in