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In answer to the comment of Marc Ghislain (message 35, June 11): "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". "[end quote]
The statement, as it is, is very difficult to read for its logic, though to me its content basically means no limitation to transgenic deployment in crop's center of diversity.
What is more compromising to a farmer's future: risk of a concrete loss or risk of unknown benefit? Why "fair" access? Fair to whom? Is giving access to something not completely known to be safe for the heritage of a unique global resource (and thus a global community resource) fair to anybody? Is access to something that might compromise someone else's production fair? If nobody else might be compromised, there is no problem, then fairness comes into play as an economical factor. But here, access can hardly be determined fair at any moment. Therefore, the whole premise of fairness for a no control stand seems completely unjustifiable.
What advantage are those technologies to bring that might improve the local farmers' livelihood, i.e. including their social contacts and responsibilities? Does CIP really think someone that is part of a small community will risk his community members' livelihood to just follow promises of someone from outside if fairly presented with (informed about) the risks and benefits - assuming fair presentation of all aspects and not just sales pitches? Would not the CIP's first responsibility be to limit the deployment of such plant material to areas where risk is minimal due to climatic, biodiversity conditions and where there is sufficient economic potential to correct any potential contamination damage, or loss of other potential resources?
Would it not in principal be more desirable to safeguard the genetic geographical resources against any risk of damage or loss through both legal regulations and economic benefits i.e. a farmer in those areas should receive subsidies or other motivation for not using introduced or genetically modified material, but using local varieties. That should be, in my eyes, the primary function of CIP.
Would you really have the resources "to avoid loss of biodiversity", in case something went wrong, i.e. billions and billions of dollars, or even millions, to fix a potentially disastrous complication? If CIP has those resources and a scientifically and practically tested remediation programme in place, then the claim "to take measures to avoid the loss of biodiversity in those regions" would have credibility. Without that, isn't it just an empty promise against a not so empty risk? If one understands the promise of efforts to "avoid the loss of biodiversity.." as ignoring the transgenic issue and just concentrating on more and more limited areas of conservation, such a statement would be a contradiction in itself.
I don't think it is so much a problem of re-formulating the statement to make it more clear, but to rethink the concept of allowing transgenic varieties anywhere close to natural genetic resource centers and CIP's role in this. CIP should promote, in those biodiversity centers, cultivation and trade conditions that favour conservation of those resources, i.e. create a, if you want to, "fair" market for those products, i.e. one that can favourably compete against economic advantages that might be obtained using transgenic crops. Prevention is feasible, correction and remediation are just technical speculation and financial nightmares or improbabilities at this time and state of knowledge. Thus, why not embrace the precautionary principle rather than an undefinable concept of fairness.
Environment and Sustainable Development Officer
Regional Office for Europe,
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla,
00100 Rome, Italy
e-mail: rainer.krell (at) fao.org
Sent: 12 June 2002 13:03
Subject: 42: Cytoplasmic male sterile GM plants
I am Peter Stamp, professor of crop sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Switzerland.
We believe that the advent of GMOs cannot be turned back, therefore any potential risks linked to the release of pollen from GMOs should be reduced or prevented NOW. At least for some commercial crops like maize and rape seed it could and should be done immediately as both crops produce large amounts of pollen which can be transported over long distances by wind or insects. The release of GM pollen can be reduced or even eliminated by growing male sterile GM plants in a mixture with male fertile non-GM plants, which act as pollen donors for the GM plants. That this is already feasible now is demonstrated by the fact that male sterile varieties of rapeseed and maize are already being successfully cultivated in mixtures containing 20% or less male fertile pollinator varieties. The male sterile varieties are based on systems of cytoplasmic male sterility which were originally introduced for the production of cheap hybrid seed; for our proposed method they have to be used without fertility restoration. It seems that, so far, their potential for preventing or reducing the problems linked to the dispersal of GM pollen has not been noticed.
A positive side-effect of growing cytoplasmic male sterile maize plants is that they often produce higher yields than their isogenic male fertile counterparts. This benefit would facilitate the introduction of the proposed system for the prevention or reduction of GM pollen release. In cases like transgenic herbicide-resistance, male fertile GM plants could replace the non-GM pollen donors in the mixture. The dispersal of viable GM pollen from GM crop stands is not fully prevented by this approach, but it would be reduced by about 80 %. Mixtures of 80 % male sterile Bt-maize and 20 % male fertile non-GM maize may help avoid the formation of Bt-resistant insect populations.
For these reasons, we strongly recommend that GM varieties be grown in male sterile versions to prevent or reduce the release of viable GM pollen. Hopefully, this will contribute to a more rational public debate since some of the controversial problems associated with gene technology will be eliminated. Our proposed method can be applied to crop species that produce a sufficient surplus of pollen.
Prof. Dr. Peter Stamp
Institute of Plant Sciences
phone +41 1 632 3878
fax +41 1 632 1143
e-mail peter.stamp (at) ipw.agrl.ethz.ch