Organic Consumers Association

New Reports Show GMOs Inevitably Pollute the Environment

GM WATCH daily

A new report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from the
National Research Council - part of the U.S.'s National Academies (of
Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) warns of what it calls serious
ecological risks of some GM plants and animals. More on the report here:
Genes Run Wild

A report today from the National Research Council warns of what it calls
serious ecological risks of some genetically modified plants and animals.

As this ScienCentral News video reports, it says there is no 100 percent
effective way to prevent some introduced genes from running out of control
in the wild. [see video at


When the nation's first genetically modified pet, the GloFish, recently came
on the market, it caused more than a small ripple in the scientific ocean.

The fish glow under ultra-violet light because scientists gave them a gene
from an entirely different species, sea coral. Experts say these
"transgenic" organisms are less fit than their wild relatives, so they'd
likely pose no threat to the environment if they got away. But there are
organisms that are given genes that might increase their fitness, such as
genetically modified salmon that grow faster than normal. Would they compete
with their natural cousins? Do they pose any danger? These are questions
some scientists have been wondering about since genetically engineered
organisms, or GEOs, were first introduced into the environment nearly 20
years ago.

A January 20, 2004 report from the National Research Council of the National
Academies, commissioned by the USDA National Biological Risk Assessment
Program, which is considering how it should regulate genetically modified
plants and animals, states that for some GEOs, including modified plants ,
insects, microbes and animals, "the ecological consequences" of their escape
or release "could be serious." The report, "Biological Confinement of
Genetically Modified Organisms, " recommends that regulatory agencies
require, and enforce, what it calls "bioconfinement" on a case-by-case
basis. It says, "the evaluation of whether and how to confine a GEO should
be an integral part of its development, and the need for bioconfinement
should be considered early in the process."

There are many different methods of bioconfinement, such as making
genetically engineered plants and animals unable to reproduce. "One way is
like fighting fire with fire," says William Muir, professor of animal
sciences at Purdue University. "We will use the transgenic technology to
actually introduce genes that make the organism sterile. If the transgenic
organisms are sterile they can't pass their genes on and if they can't pass
their genes on then they cannot persist in the environment." For example,
Muir's lab engineers fish to be sterile, unless they are fed certain
hormones during breeding. "If it got loose, it could not get these compounds
in the wild and therefore it would always remain infertile," Muir says.

The report also says that "it is unlikely that any single bioconfinement
technique will be completely effective," which means that fail-safe backups
would be necessary. "You can stack these genes one behind the other in case
one fails backup gene that stops it," says Muir. "So we can actually use this
technology to greatly reduce risks."

Muir hopes that using genetic engineering to make genetic engineering safer
will spur more public acceptance of its products. But the report concludes
that bolstering public confidence will come with the success of confinement
methods that are developed as a result of more research, because the current
lack of data limits proper assessment of current methods.
New York Times
No Foolproof Way Is Seen to Contain Altered Genes

January 21, 2004

A new report commissioned by the government suggests that it will be
difficult to completely prevent genetically engineered plants and animals
from having unintended environmental and public health effects.

The report, released yesterday by the National Research Council of the
National Academy of Sciences, says that while there are many techniques
being developed to prevent genetically engineered organisms or their genes
from escaping into the wild, most techniques are still in early development
and none appear to be completely effective.

"One of our big messages throughout the whole report is that there are very
few bioconfinement methods that are well developed," Anne R. Kapuscinski, a
professor of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology at the University
of Minnesota and a member of the committee that wrote the report, said at a
news conference in Washington yesterday.

Companies and scientists are now developing a wide range of genetically
modified organisms: salmon that grow superfast, mosquitoes engineered not to
transmit malaria, corn that produces pharmaceuticals and industrial

One concern about these transgenic products is that their genes or the
organisms could spread. Fast-growing fish, if they were to escape into the
wild, might beat out regular salmon for food or mates, disrupting the
ecological balance. Genes giving crops resistance to herbicides or insects
might spread to weeds, making the weeds harder to eradicate. Pollen flow
from corn engineered to produce a drug could allow the drug to get into corn
destined for the food supply.

Much of the efforts to prevent these effects have involved physical
containment, like growing fish in tanks rather than the ocean or growing
crops in greenhouses.

But the new report, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, looks at
biological methods of containment, which it calls bioconfinement. These
include measures like inducing sterility by giving fish an extra set of
chromosomes or exposing insects to radiation. Bacteria might be given
"suicide genes" that would cause them to self-destruct if they escaped.
Crop scientists are working on a variety of techniques, including putting
the foreign genes into the chloroplasts rather than the nucleus because
chloroplast genes usually do not get into the pollen.

In many cases, the report says, such bioconfinement will not be needed
because the organisms will pose little risk. But it says that when it is
needed, it might be useful to use more than one method at a time, since no
single method is likely to be 100 percent effective. The report also says
such bioconfinement methods are best considered early in the development of
a genetically modified plant or animal rather than as an afterthought.

The panel's report could have some bearing on issues now before regulators.
It recommends, for instance, that nonfood crops be sought for growing
pharmaceuticals or chemicals that need to be kept out of the food supply.

This position is favored by many environmental and consumer groups and by
food companies, which fear that a contamination incident would hurt sales
and undermine public confidence in food safety. But the biotechnology
industry has generally argued that it is most economical to use widely grown
crops like corn and that these crops can be adequately isolated from crops
grown for food.

The report also says there are weaknesses in the safeguards being taken by a
company that is seeking Food and Drug Administration approval to sell
salmon genetically engineered to grow faster.

The company, Aqua Bounty Technologies of Waltham, Mass., has said it would
sell to fish farms only female fish that have been sterilized, thereby
eliminating the possibility that the fish could reproduce should they escape
into rivers or the ocean. But the report says those methods alone might not
be sufficient, in part because sterilization does not always work. It says
the fish should be grown only in special inland facilities, rather than in
cages in the ocean from which they might escape.

Joseph B. McGonigle, vice president of Aqua Bounty, said there were errors
in the report. "They clearly don't have a full grasp of both what we're
proposing and how effective the technology is," Mr. McGonigle said.

Consumer groups and the biotechnology industry differed on their
interpretation of the report.

Gregory Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the
report's conclusion that there was no foolproof bioconfinement method
suggested "there is a need to have a better regulatory system that assesses
whether there are any risks to begin with."

But the Biotechnology Industry Organization said in a statement that the
report concluded that "technology providers have a variety of methods
available to ensure confinement of organisms modified through biotechnology
when risk warrants it."

In another report issued yesterday, the National Research Council said
urgent action was needed to preserve the Atlantic salmon in Maine, where
the fish supply has been rapidly declining. The fish there constitute most
of the Atlantic salmon population in the United States. A program of
removing dams should start immediately, the report said.

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