An array of approaches is becoming available for manipulating the genetic content of plants and animals. Such approaches are gaining attention from regulators, particularly in Europe, where the question is whether new technologies should fall under the same restrictive regulatory framework as plants modified using the traditional transgenic approaches. This is of central importance because restrictive European regulations have not only had pernicious effects on applied plant science throughout Europe, but have also been a factor in the closure of major R&D facilities of European agrochemical companies. Even if legislative loopholes could be found that would allow biotech plant products produced by new technologies to move forward outside of existing regulations, the Gordian knot binding European plant science through continuing policy failure and political timidity will remain uncut.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, Biosafety Protocol Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Risk Assessment & Management: An Independent Review
An Ad Hoc Technical Experts Group (AHTEG) on risk assessment and risk management was established by the Conference of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Biosafety Protocol), a subsidiary agreement under the Convention on Biological Diversity at the 4th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) in 2008. The AHTEG was tasked with providing assistance to Parties in risk assessment and management, and the mandate instructed the AHTEG to meet twice prior to the fifth Meeting of the Parties (MOP).
In the first meeting, in April 2009, the AHTEG was directed to “[d]evelop a ‘Roadmap’, such as a flowchart” to assist Parties conducting risk assessments according to Annex III of the Biosafety Protocol. The AHTEG was also instructed to consider the need for guidance on specific topics in risk assessment, produce modalities for the development of these documents, and prepare a report for review in the second meeting of the AHTEG. The intent was that this second meeting would review and finalize the “Roadmap” and: (1) make recommendations “on how to integrate the “Roadmap” and tools for retrieval of guidance materials”; (2) review the action plan concerning the modalities produced in the first meeting; (3) “consider possible modalities for cooperation in identifying living modified organisms that may have adverse effects”; and (4) prepare a report for MOP.
This paper examines the progress of the AHTEG toward a successful outcome by considering several questions: how did it operate; how did it consider input from AHTEG members and external experts; will the ongoing work produce a useful product? And importantly, is existing experience with risk assessment of LMOs being used? Information available to registered participants in the Open-ended Expert Group was used as well as relevant information publicly available on the Biosafety Protocol Secretariat’s website. Based on the stark divergence of positions apparent in those sources it seems unlikely that a credible path to a successful outcome from this AHTEG can be found by MOP-6 in October 2012, as mandated.
Feeding the Next Generation: Science, Business, and Public Policy
Serving as an editor for the December 2011 edition of Science, Technology, and Globalization published by Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Senior Fellow Val Giddings stresses in his introduction that as editors, academics, and practitioners in agricultural innovation, there should be a regonition that biotechnology and genetically modified crops remain controversial to some eyes, despite the robust safety and productivity record of GM crops currently on the market. He does not ask the readers of this volume to accept blindly the positions its authors advance, nor even the volume’s overall conclusion that genetically modified crops can and should play a critical role in agricultural productivity. The primary concern is that scientific findings and analysis remain the key driver of global agricultural research and policy, not manipulated popular opinion or perceptions. The following papers are grounded in that tradition, and offer a roadmap for those interested in objectively evaluating both the risk and benefits of biotechnology in agriculture.