Monitoring the environmental effects of GM crops
FAO expert consultation recommends guidelines and methodologies
27 January 2005, Rome - A consultation of experts convened at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), recommended that any responsible deployment of Genetically Modified (GM) crops needs to comprise the whole technology development process, from the pre-release risk assessment, to biosafety considerations and post release monitoring.
Environmental goals must also encompass the maintenance and protection of basic natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity. In this way monitoring could become the key element in generating the necessary knowledge to protect agro-systems, rural livelihoods and broader ecological integrity.
Potential hazards associated with GM cropping - according to the scientists - have all to be placed within the broader context of both positive and negative impacts that are associated with all agricultural practices.
Involving farmer groups
Environmental organizations, farmer groups and community organizations should be actively and continuously engaged in this process. These stakeholders - the workshop agreed - are absolutely intrinsic to the system.
FAO is ready to facilitate this process along with other agencies and national and international research centres, encouraging the adoption of rigorously designed monitoring programmes. Besides FAO and UNEP, the CGIAR Centres are expected to play an important role in partnership with national research centres.
The consultation was organized in the light of the controversy and public concern over Genetic Modifications (GM). FAO asked a group of agricultural scientists from many parts of the world to provide clear preliminary guidelines on the most accurate and scientifically sound approach to monitoring the environmental effects of existing GM crops.
Protecting agrosystems and livelihoods
"FAO's aim is to provide a tool to assist countries in making their own informed choices on the matter, as well as protect the productivity and ecological integrity of farming systems" said Ms Louise O. Fresco, FAO Assistant Director-General of the Agriculture Department.
She added "the need to monitor both the benefits and potential hazards of released GM crops to the environment is becoming ever more important with the dramatic increase in the range and scale of their commercial cultivation, especially in developing countries."
The experts acknowledged that a great deal of data is already available. What needs to be done is to bring together and coordinate this volume of often scattered information. They also emphasized that monitoring the effects of GM crops on the environment is not only necessary but feasible even with limited resources when it is integrated with the deployment of these crops.
The experts agreed that it is important to identify the most accurate existing data. They noted that field and traditional expertise should become a strong resource in addition to scientific expertise. These data could be used in indicators to measure the effects of GM crops on the environment. Significant changes that might cause concern should be promptly notified. In this regard, a full stakeholder engagement - farmers, scientists, consumers, public and the private sector and the civil society - will be necessary and integral to the process.
One of the difficulties in monitoring agriculture is the heterogeneity of farming systems in the different regions. The group of scientists recommended that the objective of environmental monitoring of GM crops should be nested within processes that address broader goals. There would be a need to adapt any methodology to the specific farming system through a well-designed process.
Monitoring GM crops will provide information for policies and regulations, but mainly will give producers informed options in order to allow technologies to be adopted in a sustainable way.
Information Officer, FAO
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