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Sent: 11 June 2002 09:27
Subject: 35: Gene flow in centers of origin and diversity
My name is Marc Ghislain, I am a molecular biologist working at the International Potato Center (CIP) Lima, Peru, one of the 16 CGIAR centers.
In our labs, we have developed over 1000 of transgenic events in more than 15 years of research. None of these events have been deployed yet in developing countries agriculture because we have been, and are, sensitive to public perception and careful in not imposing a new technology even when all safety concerns have been resolved.
The technologies we are using have been extensively tested for human and
environmental safety in developed countries. But there are still 2 concerns
/ potential risks left:
i) the long-term effects both on human and environment and
ii) the impact of gene flow in centers of origin and diversity.
While the first one is currently addressed by monitoring human and environment exposed to GM crops, the second one needs more attention due to its complex mixture of scientific, social, and cultural issues.
My personal view is first to properly address the scientific issues of gene flow - such as conditions to be met for hybrid production and survival, estimated impact from previous experiences with modern varieties etc. Once the combination of a certain variety with a specific new trait in a particular environment is known to pose a threat for the biodiversity with a reasonable probability of occurrence, the country will have to develop policies considering the relevance of these threats for each region. By relevance, I mean in an area of intensive mining, deforestation or urban pollution, it is irrelevant to care about a remote event of gene flow in balance with all the other threats but in areas of extensive efforts to conserve and value the agro-biodiversity for the bio-market in the European Union for example, it is a relevant policy-decision whether or not to allow GM crop deployment with little risk of gene flow. This would impose an extra cost for these entrepreneurs.
This is probably a difficult thing for us, scientists, to do - to recognize that we have to pay attention, and respect, socio-cultural opinions, in particular when these are opposed to the deployment of GM crops. The problem is partly due to the confusion between policies and technical regulations for both proponent and opponent of GM crops. Hence, it is very important not to mix up scientific information with the other socio-cultural criteria and to recognize that these [presumably "the other socio-cultural criteria" ??...Moderator] can be considered to develop policies prohibiting undesirable GM material to be deployed in specific areas.
We are now at the International Potato Center discussing the following statement which I submit to your criticism: "The [center] will avoid compromising farmers' rights to have fair access to the latest technologies to improve their livelihoods by limiting the deployment of genetically engineered organisms in the crop's centers of diversity (wild species and land races), but will take measures to avoid the loss of biodiversity in those regions".
International Potato Center (CIP),
M.GHISLAIN (at) CGIAR.ORG
Sent: 11 June 2002 09:34
Subject: 36: Re: terminology - genetic pollution
My name is David Duthie - I work for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, providing support to national biodiversity planners to meet their obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
To my knowledge, the first use of the term "genetic pollution" was in the following article: Dubois, A. M'orere, J.J. 1980. Pollution genetique et pollution culturelle. C. R. Soc. Biogeogr. 488: 5-22.
Thanks to Dan Cogalniceanu who brought this reference to my attention.
UNEP/GEF Biodiversity Enabling Activities
PO Box 30552
Mobile: +254-722-786743 (NOTE NEW 722 CODE)
E-mail: david.duthie (at) unep.org
[As there is much interest in the term, it can be added that the definition of "genetic pollution" from the FAO Biotechnology Glossary (http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/004/Y2775E/Y2775E00.HTM) is "uncontrolled spread of genetic information (frequently referring to transgenes) into the genomes of organisms in which such genes are not present in nature"...Moderator]
Sent: 11 June 2002 09:36
Subject: 37: Re: terminology - genetic pollution
Terminology is important in science as we need to share a common language. Definitely, the use of genetic pollution, contamination, is a fraud to scientific language in the issue of gene flow. It bears a judgement of values that has no scientific basis. I think this kind of terminology should be avoided if we want to communicate and share our concerns and ideas about this issue.
International Potato Center (CIP),
e-mail: M.GHISLAIN (at) CGIAR.ORG
Sent: 11 June 2002 09:39
Subject: 38: Re: terminology - genetic pollution
Reply to Tim Roberts (message 30, June 10) "Could I raise a question about terminology (always dear to the hearts of lawyers)? Some participants refer to 'genetic pollution'. Is this a scientific term, or a political one?"
The value-neutral population genetics terms are 'migration' or 'gene flow.'
College of Forest Resources & Department of Botany
University of Washington
e-mail: toby (at) u.washington.edu
Sent: 11 June 2002 09:54
Subject: 39: terminology - organic
Tim Roberts (message 30, June 10) brought up the issue of terminology and he is correct that this is a political issue. Words are used as powerful weapons to prevail in debates about a controversy.
If you oppose genetic engineering and/or believe that approved transgenes are unwanted and potentially dangerous, then you use terms such as "genetic pollution" and "genetic contamination." Such terms convey your opposition or concern and are useful to incite fear in people.
If you support genetic engineering and believe that approved transgenes are safe and should be treated like any other plant genes, then you do not view pollen/gene flow as "pollution" or "contamination," but see it as a natural process which was considered during the safety assessments and is expected. However, laws and regulations in some countries now require special handling of approved biotech crops. As a consequence, supporters now use the terms "adventitious presence" or "unintended mixing."
As far as I am aware, organic farmers who use organic seeds do not consider gene flow into their crops from adjacent conventional fields to render their crop non-organic. Of course, there are no testing methods to show that this has happened, unlike the situation with gene flow with biotech crops (Note that I used the term "biotech," since this is a consumer-friendly term}.
It is useful to discuss terminology, but neither the opponents nor proponents will give in and adopt the terminology of the other side. But, if you can get people who are neutral to adopt your terminology, then you have succeeded in a significant victory. This is what happened with the term "genetically modified organism" or "GMO." It is commonly used by people who are neutral (and even by supporters of biotechnology), but was originally coined by opponents. An ironic twist is that "GMO" is not a term that the US Food and Drug Administration allows to be used on food labels because it is misleading (almost all crops have been genetically modified using one breeding method or another).
Dr. Keith Redenbaugh
Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs
Seminis Vegetable Seeds
Woodland, California 95695
e-mail: Keith.Redenbaugh (at) seminis.com
Sent: 11 June 2002 13:47
Subject: 40: Gene flow challenges - GM crops
Regarding the issue of gene flow:
There is much to learn about transgenic plants and their impact in the environment, micro- meso- and macro-fauna of developing countries. Transgenic plants may re-configure economical and social aspects of farmer that adopt this technology. Although improvement of agriculture in developing countries is needed, the application of genetic engineering to agricultural problems in least developed countries (LDCs) is not straightforward. Many of the models seen from developed countries regarding the use of transgenic plants will probably not be applicable in LDCs. If adopting this technology is positive, adapting transgenic crops to local crops is an important consideration.
Once the crops are identified, risk assessment should consider the fitness in a specific environment; gene flow based on characteristics of the inserted gene elements; distance of pollen movement; presence of pollinators; crop rotation; intercropping systems, as well as volunteer plants and their removal. However, this presents challenges regarding resources and time because, in the developing world, it is common to cultivate either several varieties and/or mix them with secondary crops. Under these conditions, hybridization between transgenic plants and their wild relatives can be reduced but not eliminated with the current technology. Therefore gene movement between transgenic crops to other crops and wild species should be examined on a case-by-case basis considering eco-geographical characteristics.
Efficient generation of transplastomic plants open the possibility to express agronomic traits and enhance gene containment because, in many crop plants, plastids are inherited maternally, preventing pollen-mediated gene flow. However this does not apply to all crops, regarding its effectively. Seed terminator technology offers the possibility to reduce gene flow. However, this technology represents a potential risk to subsistence farmers who lack the technology and resources to segregate infertile seed. [Transplastomic plants are plants with the foreign gene(s) inserted into plastids (e.g. chloroplasts) instead of the nuclear genome...Moderator].
National agricultural, environmental, health and natural resources ministries should address regulatory authority over environmental concerns and potential risks of transgenic plants. In addition, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international research institutions will play an important role in the scientific assessment of the benefits and risks of the technology on a case-by-case basis, as well transferring it to the farmers. Biosafety guidelines should be implemented for regions based on the ecological characteristics of the region where transgenic plants will be released.
However the safe adoption of transgenic plants and their impact on the environment are dependent not only on the agricultural practices, but also on how efficiently agricultural extension services can provide proper farmer education regarding the technology. This represents a great challenge considering that many developing countries have partially deactivated agricultural extension services. This issue is complicated because, in many cases, developing countries officials are coming under growing pressure from various donor agencies, private business and NGOs to adopt one set of policies that fall in the line of precautionary or full adoption of transgenic plants.
Willy Valdivia Granda
Plant Stress Genomics and Bioinformatics Group
North Dakota State University
PO BOX 5130
e-mail: willy.valdivia (at) ndsu.nodak.edu
701 231-8440 (Lab)
701 231 8255 (Fax)