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Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants: The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation
The committee recommends that the regulations to enforce the PPA be developed in a manner that will increase the flexibility, transparency, and rigor of APHIS’s environmental assessment process.
APHIS jurisdiction has been restricted to the U.S. borders. However, in an era of globalization, environmental effects of transgenic crops on the ecosystems of developing countries will be an important component of risk analysis. As exemplified by the effects of Green Revolution varieties of wheat and rice, novel crop genes often have indirect effects on the environment. These indirect effects can occur because the new crop traits enable changes in other agricultural practices and technologies that impact the environment. They also can indirectly affect vertical integration of agriculture and equality of access to food. Society cannot ignore the fact that people who lack food security often cause major effects on both agricultural and nonagricultural environments, so in a broad context the positive or negative effects of transgenes on human well-being can be seen as an environmental effect.
Environmental concerns raised by some of the first transgenic crops (e.g., gene flow, disruption of the genome, non-target effects) could be ameliorated by expanding our knowledge base in specific areas of molecular biology, ecology, and socioeconomics. Furthermore, such an expanded knowledge base could lead to the production of transgenic plants that would improve the environment. To increase knowledge in relevant areas the committee recommends substantial increases in public-sector investment in the following research areas: (1) improvement in precommercialization testing methods; (2) improvement in transgenic methods that will minimize risks; (3) research to identify transgenic plant traits that would provide environmental benefits; (4) research to develop transgenic plants with such traits; (5) research to improve the environmental risk characterization processes; and (6) research on the social, economic, and value-based issues affecting environmental impacts of transgenic crops.