EFSA meets Member State experts on environmental risk assessment of GM plants - Webcast available

17 June 2010

EFSA scientists held a day of discussions with experts from Member States on the newest scientific developments and approaches to assess possible environmental risks from genetically modified (GM) plants. Experts in the field of environmental risk assessment of GM plants from Member State authorities and members of GMO Panel Working Groups reviewed a guidance document outlining how EFSA carries out its environmental risk assessment (ERA) of GM plants and the data requirements which must be met by applicants.

Participants at the technical meeting held in Berlin discussed comments made by Member States following a public consultation on the draft EFSA guidance document as well as a draft scientific opinion addressing the specific issue of non-target organisms (NTOs)[1]. The meeting was webcastlive on EFSA’s website.

EFSA’s GMO Panel continuously seeks to ensure that its risk assessment approach reflects the scientific state-of-the-art in its guidance to applicants It regularly reviews all its guidance documents on GM plants with updates made in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Since 2007, the GMO Panel has been further developing and strengthening its environmental risk assessment (ERA) which is now the subject of the separate guidance document discussed in Berlin. This focuses on potential long-term environmental effects, the potential effects on non-target organisms, and criteria for setting up field trials, taking into account the diverse environments where the GM plant will be cultivated.

”The ERA should follow a step-by-step approach, according to the clearly defined framework laid out in the guidance. Each GMO is unique and must be assessed individually. This requires specific evaluation of the plant, its traits, how it will be used and its possible interactions with the receiving environment,” said Professor Salvatore Arpaia, chair of the GMO Panel’s Working Group on Non-Target Organisms.

When carrying out their assessment, independent experts of EFSA’s GMO Panel use their extensive knowledge and wide experience in evaluating the data provided by applicants as well as all other available scientific literature.

More than 250 comments were received from Member States during the public consultation of the draft ERA guidance. At the meeting, EFSA experts explained specific areas which have to be addressed by applicants and experts carrying out the risk assessment. These include: the possibility of gene transfer between the plant and micro-organisms, the potential invasiveness of the plant itself; the plant’s potential effects on: human and animal health, including both target and non-target organisms; and the implications for cultivation, management and harvesting techniques.

With respect to NTOs, the draft opinion of the GMO Panel sets out proposals on the criteria for the selection of NTOs and advice on testing methodology. EFSA’s Working Group on NTOs considered the impact of GM plants on invertebrates and also took account of ecosystems that could be altered.

This meeting follows technical discussions during the preparation of the ERA and NTO opinions held last year with Member States and stakeholders such as applicants, environmental groups and non-governmental organisations.[2]

EFSA works closely with Member States in the environmental risk assessment of GMOs; for instance, for cultivation applications for GM plants, an initial environmental risk assessment is carried out by one Member State, which can be assisted by and share expertise with other Member States.

EFSA engages in dialogue with Member States and takes into consideration comments they may have.[3] The discussions at the Berlin meeting will help inform EFSA’s GMO Panel and its Working Groups in view of finalising the documents which are due to be adopted and published by November 2010.

All supporting documents of the Berlin meeting will be published on EFSA’s website as will a written report and video recording of the meeting.

For media enquiries, please contact:
Steve Pagani, Head of Press Office
Tel: +39 0521 036 149
Email: Press [at] efsa.europa.eu


Webcast and documents

  1. Introduction
    Tour de table of participants
    Adoption of the agenda
    General Introduction by the EFSA GMO Panel: D. Bartsch
  2. Strategies for ERA of GM plants (1): General approach for ERA
    Overview by the EFSA GMO Panel: J. Sweet
    Introduction by Member States
  3. Strategies for ERA of GM plants (2): Problem formulation and further steps
    Overview by the EFSA GMO Panel: J. Sweet
    Introduction by Member States
  4. Persistence and invasiveness
    Overview by the EFSA WG member: D. Bartsch
    Introduction by Member States
  5. Non-target organisms
    Overview by the EFSA GMO Panel: S. Arpaia
    Introduction by Member States
  6. Receiving environments
    Overview by the EFSA GMO Panel: J. Kiss
    Introduction by Member States
  7. Impacts of the specific cultivation, management and harvesting techniques
    Overview by the EFSA GMO Panel: A. Messéan
    Introduction by Member States
  8. Any other issue related to the ERA
    Introduction by Member States
  9. Closing remarks

Meeting documents

Further information on the public consultation of the documents

Prior meetings with stakeholders

  • Stakeholder consultation workshop with applicants - 16 June 2009
  • Stakeholder consultation workshop with Member States representatives - 17 June 2009
  • Stakeholder consultation workshop with Environmental Institutes and Organisations - 18 June 2009
  • Reports from the stakeholder workshops
    (see section “Question documents” in the Register of Questions)

Additional information

[1] Certain GM plants produce an insecticide which wards off attacks by some insects and it is important to ensure they do not adversely affect other insects, the non-target organisms (NTOs)
[2] EFSA will also meet applicants and non-governmental organisations later in the year as part of its regular round of dialogue
[3] In December 2008 the Environment Council concluded that the implementation of the EU legal framework for GMOs should be reinforced. Along with the other partners involved including the European Commission and Member States, EFSA is taking a number of relevant actions within its remit as outlined in this section, through an ongoing process of applying the latest scientific knowledge and assessment approaches. ( EFSA Actions on the Council conclusions on GMOs(189.14 KB))