Improved Risk Analysis Methodologies and Protocols

Formal research support in the United States for the study of environmental impacts of transgenic plants has been sparse. The longest continuous funding, now almost a decade, has come from the USDA’s Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program (BRARGP) to assist federal regulatory agencies in making science-based decisions about the safety of introducing genetically modified organisms into the environment. The program accomplishes its purpose by funding scientific research in priority areas determined in part by the input of the regulatory agencies. Research proposals submitted to this competitive grants program must address risk assessment, not risk management, and are evaluated by a peer panel of scientists. The program has allocated no more than a few million dollars for research each year. Recently, the USDA’s Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems (IFAFS) program has included a competition for funding research, education, and extension on the management of environmental risks of agricultural biotechnology. Both funding programs have substantial limitations—BRARGP because its focus is only on assessment and because the total amount of funding is so low; IFAFS because the focus is only for risk management and the funding program itself is anticipated to have a short life. Neither program funds monitoring or research related to monitoring.

Research on the environmental impacts of transgenic plants can be accomplished through other funding sources if the research questions asked have general significance. For example, issues directly associated with the impacts of transgenic plants may often be associated with critical, but largely unanswered, questions in other fields. For example, whether or not the introgression of pest resistance transgenes into wild populations will result in the evolution of weediness or invasiveness is directly associated with important questions in population biology regarding the genetic and ecological causes and correlates of invasiveness (Traynor and Westwood 1999).

There are several critical areas of research related to risk analysis that would benefit from increased funding.

  1. In the area of hazard identification and risk assessment, there is a need for improved, scientifically sound protocols to detect effects of transgenes and transgene products on non-target organisms. Present protocols are better adapted for screening for effects of toxic chemicals with broad ecological effects, rather than biologically released materials with more targeted specificity. This includes better understanding of effects on pollinators, natural enemies, species of conservation concern and soil organisms. There is also a need for improving understanding of the environmental effects of transgene

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