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Sent: 27 June 2002 18:18
Subject: 80: Why the fundamental nature of GMOs is important
[NB NB NB NB NB NB NB NB...The last day for participants to send messages is 28th June. I will post the last messages on Saturday morning (Rome time) and the conference will then be closed. For those of you who have not yet participated in the conference with your views or experiences (or for those of you who have already contributed, but still have something you wish to say) our message is "Speak now, or forever hold your peace".........Moderator]
The moderator has suggested that the question of whether a GMO is fundamentally different from its non-engineered counterpart is tangential to the discussion of the implications of transgene for developing countries. [The Moderator has simply tried to suggest that participants focus on the theme of this conference, which is the potential importance and impact of gene flow from genetically modified (GM) crops, forest trees, fish or animals to non-GM populations...Moderator]. I believe this question is relevant to our topic. An understanding of the fundamental nature of GMOs is critical for rational and comprehensive risk assessment, which includes assessment of the risks from gene flow.
Risk assessment (estimating the probability that some adverse outcome will occur) first requires hazard identification - identifying what potential adverse outcomes we must consider. If GMOs are fundamentally different, (see my message 1, May 31), then it is wise to try to fully understand those differences, and use that understanding to consider what new hazards they might present before making conclusions about risk. (Of course it is also important to understand what "conventional" hazards they might present, such as soil residues of transgenic products).
Some of our most serious environmental problems (e.g., global spread of bioaccumulative, endocrine-disrupting compounds, effects of industrial scale agriculture on crop biodiversity and ecosystems in developing countries) stem from our failure to identify new hazards raised by new technologies. Developing countries are least able to afford additional environmental problems, whether new or conventional, so risk assessment of GMO technology as a whole, as well as risk assessment of specific GMOs they might be considering, is very important for them.
The assessment of physical and biological risks has its counterpart in the social sciences. Developing countries would also be wise to consider how GMOs are different from their non-engineered counterparts with respect to politics, economics, ethics/religion, effects on food security, and agrarian society.
Suzanne Wuerthele, PhD, toxicologist
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
e-mail: Wuerthele.Suzanne (at) epamail.epa.gov
Sent: 27 June 2002 18:37
Subject: 81: GM animals in New Zealand
I am Hugh Blair from Massey University in New Zealand. I am primarily a quantitative geneticist.
A brief statement about genetically modified animals in New Zealand. Since 14 June 2000, there has been a moratorium placed on the field release of genetically modified organisms in New Zealand. This was imposed by the government while a Royal Commission into Genetic Modification enquiry took place (see http://www.gmcommission.govt.nz/intro/index.html for a summary). This enquiry was put in place because of clear public disquiet about this science (much of which was aimed at the consequences of gene flow - even if it was not stated in that term). The moratorium does not extend to manipulations in containment, so research can continue. The definition of containment then becomes important for animals because if the science is perceived as having 'significant benefits' (as judged by a process established through the Environmental Risk Management Authority (see http://www.ermanz.govt.nz), genetically modified animals can be generated and farmed in the equivalent of quarantine conditions (double fencing, security surveillance, etc). In addition, no animals live or dead can leave the facility (this has caused several lengthy discussions as to whether it is better to bury or incinerate dead animals), so gene flow to the animal population at large should not occur. Although there is still discussion about the possible transfer of the 'new gene' via carrion-eating animals, birds, insects, worms and microbes. So far the security measures seemed to have succeeded - the only captures being 1 or 2 media people.
While not directly related to the current topic, it is my opinion that (for New Zealand), there is more danger that imported breeds/strains will impact negatively on the genetic constitution of our production animal population than will any genetically modified animal. This is not based on science but on market forces. Currently (this may of course change), the types of farm animal genetic modification that are being trialled in NZ are those that generate animals to produce high-value, human-use, proteins - the last thing the inventor wants is gene flow. In contrast, those who import new strains/breeds make their money by widely distributing the imported genes. Indeed, if we had been more cautious about gene flow, we might not have used the North American Holstein so widely through our dairy cow population. It is less well adapted to our extensive farming systems (than our original Friesian and Jersey breeds) and has caused significant headaches to our farmers and scientists!. [Bill Muir (message 34, June 10) also refers to the impacts of gene flow from conventionally bred "globalised" populations such as the Holstein cattle...Moderator]
Hugh T. Blair
Director of Research and Postgraduate Studies
Professor of Animal Science
Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences
Private Bag 11-222
e-mail: H.Blair (at) massey.ac.nz
Sent: 27 June 2002 18:56
Subject: 82: Policy options when there is no consensus
This is Roberto Verzola from the Philippines.
It seems obvious from the discussions that no general consensus exists yet within the scientific community on important issues related to GMO safety and gene flow. The level of consensus I've seen in the GM debate is much lower than, say, the debate on the dangers of cigarette-smoking or of pesticides in food. The high level of consensus on these matters took decades. I imagine it will take as long, or more, with GE products.
The dilemma that policy-makers face (as I did, as a member of the Philippine National Biosafety Committee) is: what GMO policy to adopt while the scientific community debates the issues? It is worse in poor countries like the Philippines where the few scientists working on GM issues often also serve as consultants for biotech firms, blurring the line between scientific inquiry and corporate marketing.
Without a reasonable scientific consensus on the safety or non-safety of GM
products, policy-makers can take one of two basic options:
* to assume that a GM product is safe unless shown otherwise, or
* to assume that a GM product is not safe unless shown otherwise.
The first option is based on the substantial equivalence principle (GE and non-GE versions are considered substantially equivalent and equally safe unless shown otherwise), which guides United States regulators. The second is based on the precautionary principle, which seems to have the upper hand in Europe. Developing countries like the Philippines have been under heavy pressure, by powerful countries that sell GE products, to also adopt the first option.
However, GE risks are carried by genes. And genes flow. There's enough evidence of vertical flow (Mexico's Bt corn case being one of the more recent), and some indications of horizontal flow (Katz: from pollen, to bees' gut, to fungi and bacteria). There's also a high level of scientific consensus that once released, recalling transgenes or foreign DNA sequences (whose safety or non-safety are still subject to scientific debate) will not be feasible. Thus, we want a higher level of consensus on safety issues. Unlike nicotine or pesticides, GM crops can pollinate non-GM fields; GM fish and animals can escape into the wild. They reproduce and multiply; the risks they carry therefore increase as the escaped genes reproduce themselves.
Beyond the safety/contamination issues, concerns remain about genetic privatization and market rejection, especially because developing countries are usually dependent on a few agricultural products for export. We can't afford still another level of foreign control of our resources and economy through biopatents, nor can we afford losing our markets through GMO contamination.
In GE, therefore, the precautionary principle is especially necessary. It can allow scientific inquiry and research, but not field releases of live GMOs. It will require traceability and mandatory labeling of GMO ingredients. These, rather than reckless releases, non-traceability, and non-labelling, are the better policy options for decision-makers, especially in developing countries. In fact, the best option is probably to go organic.Roberto Verzola