EC discloses findings on GM crop impacts
News Dec 10, 2010
The European Commission has released a compilation of the 50 research projects the EU has funded in the field of genetically modified (GM) crops since 2001. The research addresses the safety of GM crops for human health and the environment. The projects, which received funding of €200m, have demonstrated that there is not yet any scientific evidence associating GM crops with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than with conventional plants, it says. There are potential opportunities to reduce malnutrition in developing countries and assist in the adaptation of agriculture to the effects of climate change, says the commission. But it adds that strong safeguards are needed to control potential risks. .============ EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms, edited by Charles Kessler and Ioannis Economidis, European Communities, 2001, EUR 19884. Ioannis ECONOMIDIS, Danuta CICHOCKA, Jens HÖGEL See also http://ec.europa.eu/research/quality-of-life/gmo/ A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001 - 2010) In 2001 the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation published the first overview of the accumulated results of ‘EC Sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)1’. This publication included work sup- ported over the preceding 15 years from the first to the fifth Framework Programmes for research, technological develop- ment and demonstration activities (FP). It featured 81 projects, involving over 400 laboratories, and the results covered a range of subjects: horizontal gene transfer, environmental impact of transgenic plants, plant-microbe interactions, trans- genic fish, recombinant vaccines, food safety, and other issues. The 2001 publication attracted the attention not only of the scientific community but also of regulators, public services, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders. The European Commission now provides a sequel to this publication, presenting the outcomes and conclusions of studies supported in subsequent Framework Programmes. In addition, the development of the Bio-Economy concept has created significant interest in the follow-up and development of the GMO debate, not only addressing public concerns about the application of genetic engineering to the production of agricultural and industrial commodities, but also offering responses to challenges for which there is currently no solution available. This new publication presents the results of 50 projects, involving more than 400 research groups and representing European research grants of some EUR 200 million. This figure brings the total Commission funding of research on GMO safety to more than EUR 300 million since its inception in 1982 in the Biomolecular Engineering programme. In addition, many Member States have also launched their own national research initiatives, complementing these coordi- nated European research efforts. The 50 research projects can be grouped into the following principal areas: • EnvironmentalImpacts of GMO; • GMO and FoodSafety; • GMOs for biomaterials and biofuels– Emerging technologies; • Risk assessment and management– Policy support and communication. It is evident from this grouping that many of the research projects have been launched to address not only the scientific unknowns but, more importantly, public concerns about the potential environmental impact of GMOs, about food safety, the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops, and risk assessment strategies. As with the previous publication, this book provides background information and descriptions of the results of the projects for scientists and regulatory communities, as well as for the public. The results and conclusions of these projects increase our accumulated knowledge, enabling the Commission and policymakers in general to contribute to the international debate, and to provide scientific support to regulatory frameworks and initiatives. The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies. Another very important conclusion is that today’s bio- technological research and applications are much more diverse than they were 25 years ago, which is also reflected by the current 7th EU Framework Programme. Due to the its large diversity, biotechnology became the key component of the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy, a concept applicable in a range of fields extending from primary production to industrial and pharmaceutical applications, and involving emerging technologies such as synthetic biology. Modern biological know-how is used to address major societal challenges, including food and feed security and safety, the development of renewable resource platforms for the production of biomaterials and bio-energy, and pharmaceuticals, while improving environmental sustainability. It is predicted that, whereas the past century was transformed with the commercialisation of personal computers and the development of the Internet, the 21st century will be revolutionised by our growing understanding of the functioning and interaction of biological systems, whether at the molecular or at the eco- system level. Biotechnology is not a purely academic exercise: its findings and developments will lead to applications and products essential to society. However, only a structured dialogue with policymakers, stakeholders and the public, based on sound science and empirical evidence, will clear the way for a balanced assessment of the benefits and risks of biotechnology and GMOs within the framework of the bio-economy. The research described in this volume focuses on possible risks associated with the use of GMOs in different biotechnological applications. Based on a growing body of evidence that biotechnology is not more risky than alternative technologies, today’s research projects funded under FP7 are now more carefully integrated and look at the potential technological benefits as well as the risks. A number of stakeholders, such as the European Group on Ethics, have greatly facilitated this approach by providing general reflections and recommendations, for example on the ethics of synthetic biology. Research efforts in this and other fields of biotechnology will continue, taking due account of environmental, social and ethical concerns while, at the same time, searching for solutions to current and future challenges.