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Sent: 02 July 2002 08:49
Subject: 99: Re: Managing gene flow in the South.
I am a doctorate in agricultural economics and presently working as a research associate.
Though my knowledge in genetic engineering is limited, I would like to express my views in agreement with Dr Glenn Ashton (message 98, June 29). Being developing nations, the south cannot afford neither their money nor their time for such doubtful technologies. Though the technology may help in enormous increases in production per unit area, it is not assuring that there will not be any negative environmental/ecological consequences. Hence, I personally feel that a responsible scientist should think about the long term effects/results of technology rather than concentrating on current profits.
EPW Research Foundation,
e-mail: tulsi_lr (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 02 July 2002 09:42
Subject: 100: Gene Flow and GM Forestry
Dag Lindgren, Professor of Forest Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
The response from forestry has been meagre at the end of the planned debate, so I feel a need to comment.
There are always exceptions and it is difficult to generalise, but I will still try to focus on some considerations which often may be relevant for forestry. Most points could be discussed concerning conventional breeding also, I do not comment on that here.
- A rather large part of the forest is still perceived as Nature. Gene
conservation in forest trees is partly made in situ. Forest trees are often
key species to major ecosystems. Forests stand for centuries and cannot
easily be replaced within a few years. Such factors sometimes make gene flow
from GM forests appear problematic.
- Much forest plantation is with native species or related species got near where they are planted. This increases the probability and potential consequences of gene flow.
- Many forest trees are wind-pollinated. Gene flow by pollen over distances of several hundreds of kilometres may then be common or at least possible.
- Improvement of forest trees usually does not (yet) mean that their ability of self-generation is significantly reduced. Contributions from the old stand to the new are sometimes a consideration even after clear cutting and planting a new stand. Vital trees may arise from seeds dispersed far from a plantation. [A stand is a community of trees sufficiently uniform in species composition, age, arrangement, and condition to be distinguishable as a group from the forest or other growth on the adjoining area, and thus forming a silviculture or management entity. (Definitions taken from the Province of British Columbia glossary: http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/pab/publctns/glossary/glossary.htm )...Moderator].
- Forest trees are expensive to field-test and the test results will have limited reliability. Only few replications in space and time and few tested individuals can be afforded. Environments where a forest variety is planted are typically variable and heterogeneous. Thus, the consequences of genetic engineering and gene flow will be less predictable for forestry than for agriculture.
- Forest trees have long rotation times. Field-testing is typically done spanning much less than a full rotation (in contrast to agriculture where a new cultivar is typically tested for several rotation times before marketing). This makes the consequences of GM and subsequent gene flow uncertain and somewhat unpredictable. [A rotation is the planned number of years between the formation or regeneration of a tree crop or stand and its final cutting at a specified stage of maturity...Moderator].
- Theoretically, using sterile trees can eliminate gene flow. The extent of gene flow can certainly be much reduced by using such techniques. But, to prove absolute sterility, long field-testing under variable conditions is often needed, and this is expensive, complicated and time consuming. Improvement in sterility means less emphasis for improvement in other characters, and the other improved characters will be later available, and may also cause difficulties in the sexual long term breeding. The requirement for sterility is likely to lead to increased use of vegetative propagation with a few well-tested sterile clones. Using selected exotics for GM forestry may eliminate gene flow to native species.
- Forest trees typically spread little pollen and seeds early in the life cycle (the juvenile stage). Thus, reducing rotation time in plantations, so rotation become short compared to the natural life cycle, can be a useful technique to limit gene flow.
- The future is unpredictable and GM trees may remain in the forest for a long time once planted. That contributes to the uncertainty of the consequences of future gene flow.
- Efforts to limit gene flow from GM forests may favour exotics; short rotation time, few clones; and lead to reduced improvement in non-GM characters.
- Gene flow from GM forests seems less risky with exotic species and short rotation time. This may perhaps favour use of GM trees in developing countries.
Dept of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
SE 901 83 UMEĊ,
e-mail: Dag.Lindgren (at) genfys.slu.se
Sent: 02 July 2002 10:02
Subject: 101: Re: Gene flow from GM canola
This is from Tom Nickson in response to Peter Jenkins (message 93, June 28) and his reference to recent gene flow reports from Canada.
In crafting my earlier message (message 24, June 7), the words used were carefully chosen to communicate precisely. To reiterate, the term "risk" was used in the context of ecological risk assessment where the hazard would be harm to a valued ecological attribute. The detection of gene flow from approved transgenic plants in seed sources at low levels does not constitute an ecological risk. This probability was identified in decision documents issued for herbicide tolerant canola products by Canadian authorities at the time the approvals were granted. The conclusion, based on examination of the data, was that this new canola was no more weedy than its conventional counterpart; and that volunteers could still be controlled using approved methods.
The issue indicated by Mr. Jenkins seems to be more related to the broader acceptability of transgenes in general rather than on evidence of ecological risk. These recent reports cite opinions of concern based on the detection of GM in several sources. Perhaps the most contentious place of detection would be in organic where transgenes have been designated as unacceptable based on personal preferences. This is a good example of where acceptability has been rejected for personal reasons, and transgenes are fundamentally unacceptable. As a result, detection of a transgene at any level affects the perception of some people's ideas of purity.
We have read extensively in this conference about transgenes being contaminants or adventitiously present depending on one's perception. We also know from science that detection of gene flow is a function of the crop, distance and how closely one cares to look (sample size and detection method). I believe that science can not address the question of the perception of an individual who deems that detection at any level is unacceptable as a matter of belief. In the most extreme case in society, the question may become one of whose beliefs have greater value, since assuring zero is technically not possible at 100% certainty?
I believe that personal beliefs are integral to risk assessment in the broadest sense of the term, not simply a science-based ecological risk assessment. This is why I feel that broad dialogue is critical to development of biotechnology for both the developed and developing world. Furthermore, personal beliefs must be clearly distinguished in discussions of scientific data and data interpretation. In addition, a decision based on personal belief is valid, but we need to recognize that no decision is risk-free. If, in the extreme case, the developed world does not develop the GM technology because its population believes the risks present from gene flow are unacceptable, zero risk to the environment from GM is guaranteed. As a consequence, zero benefit to the developing world is also guaranteed.
Thomas E. Nickson, Ph.D.
Ecological Technology Center
Monsanto Company, V2B
800 N. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63141
thomas.nickson (at) monsanto.com
Sent: 02 July 2002 11:24
Subject: 102: Re: Managing gene flow in the South.
This is Jane Morris from South Africa.
I am concerned that the views of Glenn Ashton (message 98, June 29) and Tulasi Lingareddy (message 99, July 2) should not be taken as representing the consensus view of countries in the "South".
So far there have been few inputs from developing countries into this conference, and a balanced view from a developing country perspective does not seem to have emerged. There is no reason why developing countries should not be able to undertake an informed risk assessment. If this is done properly, then these countries do not need to fear that they are more exposed to risk than countries in the developed world.
Although many would suggest that a risk/benefit analysis is not feasible or appropriate, I would argue in favour of such an approach. If the potential benefits for developing countries can be clearly defined, then we should not deny the consumer those benefits in an environment when the risks are low or negligible. As an example, we make these mental trade-offs every time we drive a car. How would you like to be told that you can't drive a car? Even though you know that it causes a certain amount of environmental pollution, you are prepared to accept the trade-offs involved. Therefore, it is important to get to grips with the potential benefits of GMOs for the developing world, in terms of improved nutrition, less use of toxic chemicals, improved yield etc etc..... On the negative side, one of the problems that is now forcing many developing countries to rethink their attitude towards GM crops is the potential loss of export markets - the erection of invisible trade barriers is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
Having said all this, I would at the same time like to push for the developed world to assist the developing world in introducing new genetic technologies which can provide means for improved development of plant and animal varieties through non-transgenic methods. The developing world is in danger of getting left behind in the post-genomic revolution. Here in South Africa, we are embarking on a major initiative to introduce genomics, proteomics and related technologies - but budgetary constraints are a real problem! Nevertheless, it is essential that we develop these technologies, which can be of major assistance to breeders without necessarily having to go the transgenic route.
E Jane Morris PhD
African Centre for Gene Technologies
P O Box 75011
Tel: +27 12 841 2642
Fax: +27 12 841 3105
Cellular: +27 82 566 2210
e-mail: jmorris (at) csir.co.za
Sent: 02 July 2002 11:51
Subject: 103: Re: Gene Flow and GM Forestry
Berthold Heinze, forest geneticist at the Federal Office and Research Centre for Forests, Vienna, Austria.
I would like to make a very short comment on one of Prof. Lindgren's (message 100, July 2) statements. I generally agree with many of his comments. However, at the beginning of his message, he states that " - A rather large part of the forest is still perceived as Nature. Gene conservation in forest trees is partly made in situ. Forest trees are often key species to major ecosystems. Forests stand for centuries and cannot easily be replaced within a few years. Such factors sometimes make gene flow from GM forests appear problematic."
I think that the fact that forest trees stand for centuries lowers any perceived risk from gene flow dramatically, compared to annual crops! Forests cannot and will not be replaced within a few years. This means that seeds carrying transgenes will, in any given year, not be able to replace mature trees except for a very tiny part of the whole forest area. Therefore, monitoring of "escaped genes" would be rather easy to do (even young trees do not run away ...). Measures to counteract such gene flow, if preferred, would be easily implemented as well (with a chainsaw ...). My own view is that just because of the very long generation times of trees, gene flow from any GM trees can be seen a bit more relaxed.
Institute of Forest Genetics
Austrian Federal Office and Research Centre for Forests
A-1140 Vienna, AUSTRIA
Tel. +43 1 87838-2219 Fax -2250
Berthold.Heinze (at) fbva.bmlf.gv.at
Sent: 03 July 2002 09:19
Subject: 104: Reduced lignin from GM forest trees
From Professor Joe Cummins, Canada.
"Reduced lignin by genetic modification of forest trees: Benefit or detriment?"
Plant cell wall material is composed of three important constituents: cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. Lignin is particularly difficult to biodegrade, and reduces the bioavailability of the other cell wall constituents. Lignin is a complex polymer of phenylpropane units, which are cross-linked to each other with a variety of different chemical bonds. This complexity has thus far proven as resistant to detailed chemical characterization as it is to microbial degradation. Nonetheless, some organisms, particularly fungi, have developed the necessary enzymes to break lignin into its component chemicals.
Extensive efforts have been made to genetically modify trees so that they have reduced lignin to facilitate pulp production. Forage crops have also been modified to facilitate grazing and to allow animals digest more of the forage or silage. Most of the genetic modifications included the use of anti-sense gene constructs to inhibit particular gene products for the metabolic path of lignin production. Anti-sense modifications use the insertion of genes that produce messenger RNA with a sequence providing an A to complement each U in the lignin message and G for C in the message, U for A and C for G. The anti-sense message forms an RNA double helix with the lignin message and that double helix is mistaken for a replicating RNA virus by the plant cell post-transcriptional gene silencing system and it is destroyed. Lignin is implicated in plant resistance to stress and pathogens, so the desirable low lignin tree or forage crop may be too delicate to thrive in the real world (outside the green house).
Low lignin anti-sense transgenic poplars were grown for four years produced high quality pulp without interfering with plant growth and fitness (1). Another low lignin anti-sense poplar was found to have a low lignin content but the structure of the lignin was altered in a manner that was less amenable to industrial lignin degradation than the normal tree (2). An extensive study of low lignin perennial herbaceous plants (including alfalfa, brome grass and orchard grass), that had been selected using conventional breeding, had problems including decreased winter survival and decreased biomass (3). Presently, the transgenic anti-sense low lignin trees need extensive testing with exposure to environmental stress and to pests before extensive plantations are produced. Detrimental impacts of low lignin anti-sense should be reported promptly, fully and truthfully.
Boerjan,W,Schuch,W,Coirnu,D and Halpin,C "Field and pulping performance of
trees with altered lignification" 2002 Nature Biotech 20,607-13
2.Jounanin,L,Goujon,T,Nadai,V,Martin,M,Mila,I,Vallet,C,Pollet,B,Yoshinaga,A, Chabbert,B,Petit-Conil,M and Lapeire,C "Lignification in transgenic poplars with extremely reduced caffiec acid O-methyl transferase activity" 2000 Plant Physiology 123,1363-73
3. Caler,M,Buxton,D and Vogel,K "Genetic modification of lignin concentration affects fitness of perennial herbaceous plants" 2002 Theor Appl Genet 104,127-31
Professor Joe Cummins,
University of Western Ontario.
jcummins (at) uwo.ca
Sent: 03 July 2002 09:24
Subject: 105: Re: Managing gene flow in the South.
Jane Morris (Message 102, July 2) acknowledges the loss of export markets due to GE contamination as a real risk from unexpected/uncontrolled gene flow. This is even truer for developing countries dependent on a few agricultural products for export. The recent report from Australia that herbicide-resistance genes can flow up to 3 km from source fields further confirms this risk. Even if the initial levels of contamination are low, the contamination will get eventually worse if farmers save their seed for subsequent planting, which remains a widespread practice among farmers in developing countries. Unlike Australia or the US, farms in developing countries also tend to be much smaller and closer together, increasing the risk of gene escape and subsequent contamination.
I would also add that the proven market preference nowadays for GE-free products is a very strong reason for developing countries, like the Philippines, to keep their entire territory GE-free, by avoiding field releases including field-testing. Then, we can easily guarantee GE-free exports, with minimum effort in testing and segregation.
In countries where transgenic gene flow is already occuring and spreading, a GE-free guarantee -- if it can be given at all -- can only be given at high cost and often only means <1% contamination.
Developing countries that can remain truly GE-free will enjoy a huge competitive advantage vis-a-vis these countries.
Secretary-general, Philippine Greens
rverzola (at) gn.apc.org
Sent: 03 July 2002 14:35
Subject: 106: Soil mercury remediation by transgenic trees
[Thanks to Professor Cummins for raising another aspect concerning gene flow from GM populations. I will also use this occasion, to remind you all that there are just 3 days left for posting messages in this conference. The final day for posting messages is July 5. There will be no extension past that date. I will then post the last messages on Saturday morning (Rome time) and the conference is then be closed. I will thus repeat what I said last week: 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]
Soil mercury pollution can be a major chronic pollution hazard. Most of the sites are historical industrial sites. Gold mining, in particular, may still use primitive "quicksilver" gold extraction that pollutes soil and waterways. In many areas, the soil pollution may be of geological origin rather than a result of human activity.
Currently, atmospheric deposition of mercury is a leading pollution problem in the cities and wild lakes of the northern countries. Most of the problem is associated with fossil fuels and medical waste incineration. Plots of land that are polluted with high levels of mercury are planned to be phytoremediated using trees that are modified to take up the ionic mercury or organic mercury, convert it to less toxic elemental mercury, then expel it into the atmosphere where it will be safely diluted before it is diluted (1,2,3).
The environmental risk assessment by the proponents of transgenic phytoremediation argued that mercury emissions from the treated sites would be below the current emission levels for elemental mercury. Elemental mercury is retained in the atmosphere for up to two years, during which time it is diluted to "non toxic" levels before precipitation (4). The proponents also argued that it would be negligible in comparison to fossil fuel burning and hospital waste incineration (4). Finally, the proponents argued that feeding animals would be exposed to less mercury than from conventional plants because elemental mercury was so rapidly released from the plant tissue (4). The proponents believed that the genes from mercury emission would not be transferred to non-transgenic plants (4).
The proponents' risk assessment seemed very uncritical and quite unrealistic. Elemental mercury does remain in the atmosphere for up to two years, but always precipitates in rain and snow. The arctic acts as a trap to condense the fallen mercury but all of the northern communities, including large eastern North America cities, suffer growing mercury accumulation from precipitation. It is clear that the precipitated elemental mercury is rapidly converted to ionic and organic mercury once it is deposited.
What phytoremediation will do is to relocate soil mercury from contaminated soil sites in southerly communities and redistribute the mercury to the northern communities. There are a large number of sites with mercury-contaminated soil and sediment, along with the geological areas of high mercury content. For example, the crude gold mining techniques used along the Amazon left elevated soil mercury levels. If that area was to be phytoremediated the mercury released to the atmosphere would likely precipitate in the cities on northern United States and Canada and impact heavily in the Arctic. Emitted mercury condensed in the ocean will reappear on the dinner tables of the world from bioaccumulation through the food chain.
Based on the current experience with transgenic crops it is certain that some transgenic pollen and seed will escape. Populating expansive areas of geological mercury pollution with mercury transgenic trees (which would be selected for) could lead to a global catastrophe. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems rather schizophrenic in supporting the research on mercury phytoremediation by air emission while supporting major projects in reducing atmospheric mercury deposition. The United Nations should play a major role in regulating the global atmospheric deposition of mercury and other volatile pollutants.
1. Rugh,CL, Senecoff,J, Meagher,RB and Merkle,SA. "Development of transgenic
yellow poplar for mercury phytoremediation" 1998 Nature Biotech 16,925-928
2. Bizily,SP ,Rugh,CL and Meagher,RB. "Phytodetoxification of hazardous
organomercurials by genetically engineered plants" 2000. Nature Biotech. Nat Biotechnol, 18(2): 213-217.
3. Kramer,U and Chardonnens,A. "The use of transgenic plants in the bioremediation of soils contaminated with trace elements" 2001 Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 55,661-72
4. Pilon-Smits,E and Pilon,M. "Breeding mercury-breathing plants for environmental cleanup". 2000. Trends in Plant Science 5,235-6
Professor Joe Cummins,
University of Western Ontario.
jcummins (at) uwo.ca
Sent: 04 July 2002 08:51
Subject: 107: Transgenic trees may cause problems with mycorrhiza
A wide range of plant systems form symbiotic associations with fungi. The associations are called arbuscular mycorrhizae. The symbiosis develops in the roots where the fungus colonizes cells of the cortex to access carbon compounds supplied by the plant. The fungus, in return, contributes to the mineral nutrition of the host plant and defends the plant from microbial pathogens. The symbiosis is believed to have originated at least 500 million years ago, persisting for as long as plants have colonized the land (1). Symbiosis that has lasted for so long should not be ignored when evaluating the impact of transgenic plants on the environment, particularly the forest trees that strongly depend on the symbiosis to maintain a long life in a challenging environment.
Mycorrizal colonization was studied in a field trial of transgenic aspen. The modification included the rol-C gene from the T-DNA of the bacterium Agrobacterium rhizogenes. The study focused on 35S-rolC transgenic aspen trees characterised by dwarfed phenotype, precocious bud break/leaf development, and smaller wrinkled leaves as compared with non-transformed control trees. Transgenic plants carrying the 35S-rolC gene construct show primarily alterations in the content of cytokinins. [Cytokinins are plant growth regulators characterized as substances that induce cell division and cell differentiation...Moderator]. However, in leaves, buds, apices and stems of different 35S-rolC transgenic aspen lines the levels of different other plant hormones, such as abscisic acid (ABA) and indole-3-acetic acid (IAA)..
Wood formation of the 35S-rolC transgenic aspen trees shows stable alterations as compared with non-transformed controls, such as delayed formation of cells, the occurrence of thin-walled and less-lignified fibres and the lack of typical latewood. The transgenic aspen was deficient in colonization of one of four fungal symbiont strains. The study showed that the transgenic aspen influenced the establishment of a mycorrhizal symbiont with a potential fungal partner(2). There is little doubt that other transgenic trees, such as those deficient in lignin, may exert an influence on the mycorrizal symbiosis. It seems imperative that transgenic trees should not be rushed to commercialization until important characteristics are fully evaluated under stringent field conditions.
1.Harrison,M. "Molecular and cellular aspects of the arbuscular mycorrizal symbiosis" 1999 Ann Rev. Plant Mol. Biol. 50,361-89
2. Kaldorf,M,Fladung,M,Muhs,H and Buscot,F "Mycorrizal colonization of transgenic aspen in a field trial" 2002 Planta 214,653-60
[The abstract from paper 2, referred to above, reads as follows: Mycorrhizal colonization of genetically modified hybrid aspen (Populus tremula x P. tremuloides Michx.) was investigated over 15 months in a field experiment. The aspen carried the rolC gene from Agrobacterium rhizogenes under control of either the constitutive cauliflower mosaic virus 35S promoter or the light-inducible rbcS promoter. Arbuscular mycorrhizas (AMs) were rare in all root samples, while fully developed ectomycorrhizas (EMs) were found in all samples. No significant differences in the degree of mycorrhizal colonization between aspen lines were seen with either AMs or EMs. The EM community on the release area was dominated by four fungal species that formed more than 90% of all mycorrhizas, while eleven EM types were found occasionally. Mycorrhizal diversity did not differ between transgenic and non-transgenic trees. The structure of mycorrhizal communities was similar for most aspen lines. The sole significant difference was found in the abundance and development of one of the four common EM morphotypes, which was rare and poorly developed on roots from the transgenic aspen line Esch5:35S-rolC-#5 compared with non-transgenic controls. This effect is clone specific as the formation of this EM type was not affected by the transgene expression in the other transgenic line, Esch5:35S-rolC-#1. This is the first demonstration of a clonal effect influencing the ability of a transgenic plant to form a mycorrhizal symbiosis with a potential fungal partner...Moderator]
Professor Joe Cummins,
University of Western Ontario.
jcummins (at) uwo.ca
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
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:08
Subject: 111: Re: The gene flow discussion
I find the remarks by Mr. Blanchfield (message 109, July 5) highly offensive to the participants of this debate who in my opinion have mainly focused on geneflow in what I consider a valuable and rather respectful exchange of thoughts. It is a pity to see this spoiled at the last day by the remarks of mr. Blanchfield. Side points that were made were, in my opinion, oftentimes needed to explain the rationale behind the thinking. For example: some proponents of GE see no problem in GE geneflow because, for them, GE is similar to classical breeding. In such a situation it is justified to point to the difference of transgenes and to remark that the used gene constucts in GE are really fundamentally different from classical breeding. It is disgraceful to refer to this as "prejudices and unshakebly fundamentalist positions by people from political groups". This certainly does not help to get a rational debate!
It is amusing to see that mr. Blanchfield does exactly that which he unjustifiably reproaches others for: rather than talking about geneflow, he starts about the subject of HACCP, by the way an instrument that hinders and destroys many tradional methods and practices of foodmaking and is conveniently used by the EU to block imports from Southern countries. Talk about using this forum as a parade for an agenda!
Wytze de Lange
De Wittenstraat 43-45
1052 AL Amsterdam
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:16
Subject: 112: Geneflow and Sustainable Agriculture
This is Patrick Mulvany, a so far silent reader of this very stimulating e-conference.
I just want to inform you that you can continue this debate on the impact of geneflow on agriculture in the Sustainable Agriculture (SARD) E-Conference, next week. It will focus on Access to Genetic Resources and Agricultural Biodiversity in relation to sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD). Geneflow of patented and modified organisms is a crucial process that may restrict access to genetic resources and could disrupt genetic integrity.
More information is given below
Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG),
Patrick_Mulvany (at) compuserve.com
From Monday through Wednesday (8-10 July) and continuing, there will be a discussion on Access to Genetic Resources in the context of SARD - sustainable agriculture and rural development. I am co-chairing this section with IPGRI.
The inital discussion will focus on limits to access through IPRs, GMOs, changes in agricultural systems, cultures, tastes, markets, policies, governance and so on. We are looking for examples of how access is being limited and how agricultural biodiversity is being eroded, thus by definition decisively limiting access. The second discussion period (22-24 July) will look mainly at positive solutions, proposals and ways forward.
Do register by going to this page:
< http://www.fao.org/wssd/SARD/eforum_en.htm > and click on "Have you registered?". You will receive background papers and information......and can contribute ideas, case studies, provocative thoughts...whatever...The output from this e-conference will be presented at the WSSD in Johannesburg in August. This is a potentially useful tool for promoting the issues we are campaigning on and have highlighted in the World Food Summit process. If you are having difficulty registering, let me know... there are ways of doing this via email only, rather than through the internet. If you want more information, please let me know.
Welcome to the Electronic Forum on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) in preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
An Electronic Forum on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development
In preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization in collaboration with members of Major Groups invites you to participate in an Electronic Forum to promote SARD (land, water, genetic resources and food security) and to invite, explore and develop SARD implementation initiatives related to: Access to Resources; SARD Good Practices, Principles and Case Studies; and Fair Conditions for Employment in Agriculture. The E-Forum will be implemented from June 24 to August 17 2002. We look forward to your participation in this event!
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:18
Subject: 113: Re: The gene flow discussion
Prof Blanchfields suggestion (message 109, July 5) to adopt HACCP processes is flawed due mainly to that system being focussed on production systems and not on the complexities of genetics per se. However, HACCP processes may be useful for assisting in Identity Preservation (IP) regulation for tracking transgenic crops, especially picking up where, and if, gene flow has occurred between commercial crops. This may, however, result in a de facto non-tariff barrier that prejudices developing nations due to lack of capacity. HACCP is fine for developed nations with well established agro-industrial systems but in less developed nations may remain problematic for many years hence.
ekogaia (at) iafrica.com
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:24
Subject: 114: We must consider reciprocal gene flow between GM and non-GM populations
My name is Dr. Hyoji NAMAI, and am a retired professor of Plant Breeding, Institute of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Tsukuba, Japan. At present I am a part-time lecturer of Faculty of Agriculture, Tamagawa University.
More than 30 years ago, I started to study pollination biology in brassica crops, common buckwheat, cultivated rice, etc. Based on the studies, I could find a simple conclusion on plant reproductive systems as follows:
It is strongly said that most plants are mixed pollinating ones (mixer) instead of self-pollinating (selfers, autogamous plant) and cross-pollinating (outcrossers, allogamous plant). There are wide inter- and intra-varietal variations in every cultivated species we studied. Each flower of a plant should perform different breeding systems depending upon the inner and outer conditions of the plant. Sexual reproductive systems in the plant kingdom are easily variable.
The theme of the conference is "Gene flow from GM to non-GM population", but reciprocal gene flow could easily occur between GM and non-GM plants, regardless of reproductive systems (allogamous vs autogamous) as well as whether insect pollinated or wind pollinated, etc. So, we must consider reciprocal gene flow between GM and non-GM populations as well as the isolation distance between them. Otherwise, even if the GM variety is completely safe, it can easily be polluted by non-GM pollen and its unique characteristic may be ruined in the course of time.
Dr. Hyoji Namai
15-18 Nakaarakawaoki, Tsuchiura, 300-1175
e-mail: hyohyon (at) jcom.home.ne.jp
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:29
Subject: 115: Developing countries, risk assessment and biotechnology
This is Tom Nickson, and I wish to make two points as my final contribution.
Some members of this forum have questioned the appropriateness of risk/benefit analysis as a basis for prudent making decisions regarding GM crops in developing nations. I have thought much about this, and still fail to see the logic of the argument. The two basic elements required to conduct a risk/benefit assessment are scientific capacity to interpret experimental science and some form of public policy to assesses criteria for acceptability (i.e., define benefit and risk). It is inconceivable to me that a country in this world does not have people with the scientific and public policy capabilities. As such, I firmly believe that a scientifically based, risk assessment that integrates social aspects is the appropriate tool for decision making anywhere in the world.
Finally, it has not surprised me that the opinions expressed in this forum were emotionally charged and highly polarized, reflecting deep-seated personal beliefs. Many of the contributions I read gave me cause to reflect on my own fundamental beliefs that are the basis of why I do the work I do. I share these with the forum so that those who care to better understand may do so.
I firmly believe that biotechnology is a valuable tool that will enable people produce food more efficiently anywhere in the world. Two quotes from M. Ghandi are relevant and inspiring to me:
First, "Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have seen, and ask yourself, if the steps you contemplate are going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore to him control over his own life and destiny?"
And second: "Note down these words of an old man past the age of three score and ten: In the times to come the people will not judge us by the creed we profess or the label we wear or the slogans we shout, but by our work, industry, sacrifice, honesty and purity of character. They will want to know what we have actually done for them. But if you do not listen, if taking advantage of the prevailing misery and discontent of the people, you set about to accentuate and exploit it for party ends, it will recoil upon your head and even God will not forgive you for your betrayal of the people."
I feel that if I didn't work toward the safe and prudent development of improved agricultural production systems, I would not be true to my beliefs.
Thomas E. Nickson, Ph.D.
Ecological Technology Center
Monsanto Company, V2B
800 N. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63141
thomas.nickson (at) monsanto.com
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:34
Subject: 116: Gene flow - IN or OUT
It appears to me that all the discussions in this conference is about the flow of gene from GM to non-GM populations, because that was the way the conference topic was designed.
If I take the liberty of defining - "Gene-flow IN" as - Flow of the 'transgene' which hitherto did not exist in the gene pool of a species from outside of its gene pool, through genetic engineering by human intervention. Human intervention is necessitated due to the sexual barriers which prevent the gene flow IN.
"Gene-flow OUT" as - Flow of the 'transgene' from a GMO to outside its gene pool due to lack of sexual barriers or existence of a very low level of out crossing.
Many of the concerns expressed so far on the "gene-flow OUT" may be true, may not be true, may be hypothetical, or may be real but yet to happen, etc. Whatever they may be, it is a MUST that the gene-flow, both IN and OUT, are safe to the recipient species and to the environment in which they live - be it animals or plants.
One thought that runs in my mind is that if the Bio-safety protocols currently regulating the determination of the safety of a transgene in the recipient species include tests on the expression of transgene and its environmental effects in the related (naturally crossable) species, then the Bio-safety concerns will cover both gene-flow IN and OUT. This should apply to both animals and plants. I believe in this matter, there are no apparent differences between developing and developed countries.
Dr M J Vasudeva Rao
e-mail: vasrao (at) advantaindia.com
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:40
Subject: 117: Developing countries and biotechnology
Swapan Datta from IRRI, Philippines
The comments made by Juan F. Gallego-Beltran about developing countries and biotechnology (message 108, July 5) is interesting as his final comment was "sorry for not commenting with any research "FACTS or DATA"
In fact, technology (GE) not only developed or created mostly by the developed countries is also being used in their countries too. See the data of Clive James (ISAAA Briefs 2001, 2002) on how much GE improved crop products produced and commercialized in USA and other countries. Many scientists from the developing countries, including plant breeders, are not much concerned regarding gene flow nor they would be so much interested to spend money on a project to see how gene flow works or if there is any negative impact in the environment. Rather, they would be interested to use some useful genes to improve their crops so that more and improved nutritious foods can be produced for their real need and consumption. In my opinion, they are not passive readers rather active in judging things from the practical and realistic point of view. Many transgenic crops are now in the field of China, similarly Bt cotton, Bt rice, BB rice and several other crops are now being field tested in India and other Asian countries. It is a positive move and I believe, it will continue like that.
Nevertheless, all food safety, biosafety, positive and negative impacts should be studied so that people can have the right information which is applicable for all people irrespective of their origin or use in place and improved foods are any way good for all (Please also see my earlier comments in message 7, June 3).
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI),
S.DATTA (at) CGIAR.ORG
Sent: 06 July 2002 11:58
Subject: 118: Gene flow is ubiquitous
Whenever a new plant variety is released, gene flow occurs, since the new variety has new genes and/or new combinations of genes. Such gene flow has been occurring for centuries and has affected landraces, germplasm banks, farmer-saved seed, etc., worldwide. Gene flow is expected, predicted and in almost all cases, uneventful.
When we released the first biotech crops, we had spent several years conducting safety (risk) assessments to determine whether the transgenes would have an adverse effect on the environment. In all cases, we knew that the transgenes would move to wild relatives and to fields containing the conventionally-bred crop. Our risk assessments generally gave such gene flow a probability of 1. We then calculated what the effect of such gene flow would be. So, by demonstrating that the transgene had no adverse effect, we expected that this transgene would become just another new plant gene (and that once the patents expired in 17-20 years, would be available for everyone to use however they wished).
However, various countries and production/trading groups decided that they wanted to exclude transgenes from their products, regardless of the results of safety studies and approvals by various government agencies. The developers and farmers who use biotech seeds are willing to meet reasonable product tolerances, such as those established for field corn "contamination" into sweet corn. Unfortunately, those who oppose the use of biotech crops have not established tolerances which can be achieved.
Gene flow evaluations will continue to be done on existing and new biotech crops. There is no argument that this should be done, although those who profit from conducting such studies may continue to assert that not enough studies have been done. To date, however, the only difference between transgene and conventional gene flow is that the former can be easily tracked.
Unfortunately, with the creation of the concept that transgene gene flow is "contamination" which must be avoided, we now have an untenable situation without a reasonable solution. No amount of gene flow studies will convince biotech opponents that a transgene is safe. There is one curious "solution," however, that has spread from Argentina to India to Mexico to Thailand (1,2): farmer activism, in which farmers are choosing to grow biotech crops prior to official approvals by their government.
1. Purvi Mehta-Bhatt and Joaquim Machado , LMOs & the Environment, 11/01 Durham, NC [refers to the OECD-organised conference "LMOs and the Environment: An International Conference: Raleigh-Durham, the United States, 27-30 November 2001 - http://www1.oecd.org/ehs/raleigh/programme.htm ...Moderator]
2. E. Todd, IFT Annual Meeting, 6/02 Anaheim, CA [refers to the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists held in Anaheim, Canada...Moderator].
Dr. Keith Redenbaugh
Associate Director, Regulatory Affairs
Seminis Vegetable Seeds
37437 State Highway 16
Woodland, California 95695
530 669 6170
530 666 4426 fax
keith.redenbaugh (at) seminis.com