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2-Plants: Contamination from gene-altered crop trials pose unappreciated threats to wildlife

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TITLE:  Contamination From Gene-Altered Crop Trials Pose Unappreciated
        Threats To Wildlife
SOURCE: Center for Food Safety, USA
DATE:   13 Jun 2006

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View the Press Summary of Contaminating the Wild
View the full report - Contaminating the Wild

Contamination From Gene-Altered Crop Trials Pose Unappreciated Threats
To Wildlife
New Report Exposes Inadequate Regulation of Risks of Gene Flow from

Washington, DC - Current field trials of experimental, untested
genetically engineered (GE) crops pose unassessed risks to wildlife, yet
government regulators have inadequate safeguards to protect the
environment from genetic contamination. That's the conclusion of
"Contaminating the Wild," a new report released today by the Center for
Food Safety (CFS). The report examines the history of field trials of GE
crops that have posed contamination threats, and warns that potential
hazards from such genetic contamination will increase with the
increasingly powerful and unpredictable engineered genes that industry
is artificially inserting into many common crops.

Agricultural crops and related wild plants can exchange genes through a
process called "gene flow" when pollen from the crops fertilizes the
related plants. Although gene flow to related plants can occur from
natural crops, with engineered plants for the first time genes never
before found in crops can contaminate wild plants, and may reduce
biodiversity or disrupt natural processes.

"Genetic engineering ups the ante when it comes to the potential for
harm to wildlife from gene flow, because organisms in natural ecosystems
have not adapted to many of the genes used in field trials," said Doug
Gurian-Sherman of CFS, the author of today's report. "The USDA is not
doing enough to assess or prevent the problems we may see with new
genetic transformations released into the natural environment.
Ultimately, our wild lands could suffer from industry's genetic experiments."

"Contaminating the Wild" was spurred in part by a 2004 Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) study that found contamination of wild plants 13
miles away from a large (400 acre) experimental field of gene altered
bentgrass, yet alarmingly the U.S. Department of Agriculture's accepted
separation distance to avoid such contamination was merely 900 feet.
Despite this EPA finding, and warnings from the Forest Service that this
GE grass could "adversely impact all 175 national forests and
grasslands," USDA continues to allow field trials of the GE grass. A
follow-up to the first EPA study is expected to be out this summer. 
Because of the startling results of the EPA study, and the virtual lack
of similar studies for the many other GE crops with wild relatives,
"Contaminating the Wild" looks closely at whether experimental genes may
be escaping from other field trials.

The USDA's Inspector General (IG) also warned in December that the
agency "lacks basic information" about GE field trials and noted that
confinement measures to prevent gene flow are rarely reviewed by USDA
before field trials are planted. The IG noted that "as the number of
approved applications to field test new GE plants continues to rise, we
are concerned that the [USDA's] efforts to regulate those crops have not
kept pace... [W]eaknesses in [USDA] regulations and internal management
controls increase the risk that regulated genetically engineered
organisms will inadvertently persist in the environment before they are
deemed safe to grow without regulation."  That report looked primarily
at enforcement and compliance with existing USDA regulations, while the
science reviewed in "Contaminating the Wild" reveals that gene flow may
occur even if existing regulations are followed. 

Unlike chemical threats that can sometimes be cleaned up or contained,
genetic contamination may be uncontrollable. "We know from EPA's study,
and many studies from conventional crops, that gene-altered crops can
transfer engineered genes to other plants," said Gurian-Sherman. "Even
more troubling is that if these genes persist and cause harm, it may be
impossible to contain the damage."

Findings in "Contaminating the Wild" include:

- Over 1700 field trials of twenty different GE crops have been
conducted in states where the GE crop has one or more wild relatives;
- Many field trials are large, increasing the quantity of pollen and
thus the likelihood of genetic contamination;
- Many GE field trials test experimental traits that are likely to
confer an advantage to wild plants, increasing the likelihood that the
traits will persist and cause harm;
- USDA very rarely requires Environmental Assessments of field trials,
leaving environmental hazards largely unassessed.

CONTACT:  Doug Gurian-Sherman, Center for Food Safety, (202) 547-9359;
Charles Margulis, CFS, (510) 697-0615.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
news & information

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