lunes, abril 18, 2005

April 2005

TexPIRG Education Fund

Executive Summary | News Release

Download the full report. (PDF, 2 MB)

Executive Summary

Although genetically engineered crops are still poorly understood, corporations and universities are growing them experimentally in the open environment with little oversight and public notification. Never before in the history of the planet have we been able to transfer genes across natural species barriers, creating unheard of combinations like tomatoes with fish genes, or even pigs with human genes. Contrary to assertions made by proponents of the technology, genetic engineering is not precise. Scientists cannot control where the gene is inserted into the host’s genetic code, nor guarantee stable expression of the gene in the new genetically engineered organism. As a result, genetic engineering raises a host of ecological and human health risks, and these concerns have not been adequately addressed.

The biotechnology industry began field testing genetically engineered plants and crops in the 1980s. Field tests are supposed to determine the impact of the new crops on the environment and how well the plants function. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), however, failed to adequately regulate these field tests from the start, and its oversight has weakened over time. An analysis by the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) in 1988 roundly criticized shortcomings in USDA’s oversight, echoing calls by prominent microbiologists, ecologists, and others that certain regulatory decisions were “scientifically indefensible.” USDA has continued to weaken its oversight of the technology despite little empirical evidence on which to base such decisions.

USDA’s inadequate oversight of these field tests poses immediate risks. Nonnative organisms can invade and degrade ecosystems. Plants engineered to produce proteins with insecticidal properties may damage the soil or harm so-called non-target species. Plants engineered to be virus resistant can cause new viral strains to evolve through recombination or make existing viruses more severe. And if field experiments are not properly monitored, genetic pollution can result, putting farmers’ livelihoods, the environment, and human health at risk. In essence, our environment is serving as the laboratory for widespread experimentation of genetically engineered organisms with profound risks that can never be recalled once released.

Moreover, USDA has failed to require adequate data collection on field tests of genetically engineered crops, leaving the true impacts of these new creations still largely unknown. According to a review of the 85 most recent reports of field tests available in 1995, some of the most fundamental tests necessary to determine ecological effects, such as impacts on nontarget insects, were never even conducted. As the authors of the report concluded, this is a classic example of a “don’t look, don’t find” regulatory framework. Similarly, the National Academy of Sciences found serious shortcomings in USDA’s oversight, saying the agency at times “lacked scientific rigor, balance, transparency” and chastising the agency for “inadequate expertise.”


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