Living modified organisms: new guidelines for risk assessment
A new tool to help determine if a genetically modified plant is a weed
1 June 2004, Rome -- New guidelines for determining if a living modified organism (LMO) poses a hazard to plants have been published by FAO.
Some 130 countries adopted this unique international standard on how to assess the risks of LMOs to plants.
With some LMOs there is a potential risk of introducing a gene that could cause a normal plant to become a weed, FAO said.
FAO published the guidelines two weeks after the release of its annual report 'The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-04' which calls for adequate biosafety regulations.
"Internationally accepted guidelines will help countries to reduce the risks of releasing LMOs that are weedy and could seriously harm our crop and plant ecosystems," said Niek van der Graaff, Chief of the FAO Plant Protection Service and Secretary of the IPPC.
The guidelines also cover other LMOs that may be harmful to plants, such as insects, fungi and bacteria.
"Living modified organisms" are any living organisms that possess a new combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology; they are a subset of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Genetically modified seeds, cuttings and tissue cultures are living parts of plants and therefore LMOs.
The Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, which adopted the Guidelines in April, is the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). This international treaty helps to stop the spread of pests and diseases affecting plants.
Risk analysis of LMOs
The new guidelines will help countries assess the risks of LMOs and determine whether some should be considered as weeds or other organisms that damage plants.
Their introduction could then be regulated in order to protect crops and ecosystems. The guidelines harmonize and standardize the way countries analyse risks that LMOs may pose to plant health.
A country may now use the guidelines to determine which LMOs pose a threat and, if necessary, can subsequently prohibit or restrict their import and domestic use. This is of particular value to developing countries, which can now use the same risk analysis criteria as developed countries.
In the case of trade disputes concerning plant health, the World Trade Organization (WTO) refers to IPPC standards. Phytosanitary measures that conform to IPPC standards are deemed necessary to protect plant life or health.
The IPPC, within its overall scope of preventing the spread and introduction of pests of plant products, covers LMOs as far as they are pests of plants; the Cartagena Protocol addresses, in general, the safe transfer, handling and use of LMOs, specifically focusing on transboundary movement.
Information Officer, FAO
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