Assessing the environmental impact of genetically modified plants - EFSA Scientific Colloquium - 20-21 June, Tabiano, Parma, Italy

On 20 and 21 June, EFSA held a two day Scientific Colloquium in Parma on the Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified (GM) plants. Leading scientists from both EU and non-EU countries discussed approaches to environmental risk assessment in the light of current scientific thinking, focusing on issues such as environmental fitness[1], effects on non-target organisms, long-term and large scale environmental effects, broader environmental considerations and the assessment of risk versus environmental benefit. The Colloquium is part of a standing commitment by EFSA to monitor progress in science in order to further develop scientific approaches in risk assessment of GMOs. EFSA will publish the outcome of the colloquium in a summary report.

The EFSA GMO Panel evaluates risk assessments carried out by applicants requesting market approval for genetically modified organisms in the European Union.  EFSA has provided guidance[2] on environmental risk assessment of GMOs for these applicants so that the potential effects that GMOs might have on human or animal health and the environment may be assessed. This Guidance is a living document and the aim of this Colloquium was to conduct a scientific review of the current environmental risk assessment guidance, focussing on non-target organism testing, upscaling and modelling, long-term effects and broadening the scope to include environmental risk-benefit assessment.

Participants agreed on the current case-by-case approach to environmental risk assessment, as outlined in EFSA’s guidance, and that EFSA’s risk assessment work was at the forefront of developments in this area.  Experts at the colloquium agreed that more specific guidance may be needed for the assessment of the potential impact on non-target organisms in terms of design and statistical power of testing[3]. They agreed that modelling may be a useful tool to predict potential effects that GM plants might have over time and when cultivated on a larger scale in Europe.

Participants to the colloquium came from 19 EU Member States, Australia, Brazil, Croatia, Iran, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and USA.  Amongst the participants were leading scientists from public research institutes, members from national advisory bodies on environmental risk assessment of GMOs, private sector experts, representatives from the European Commission, EFSA GMO Panel members and EFSA staff. For further background information, please see the programme and briefing notes of the 8th Scientific Colloquium - Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Plants - Challenges and Approaches

According to Dr. Herman Koëter, EFSA’s Deputy Executive Director and Director of Science, who opened the colloquium:

“Today we were able to discuss some of the latest developments from Europe and around the world in GMO environmental risk assessment methodology and practice.  The information shared and discussions with leading experts in this field will allow EFSA to stay at the forefront of GMO environmental risk assessment which is an important part to EFSA’s GMO assessment work”.

As risk assessment is an evolving science, EFSA welcomed participants’ contributions during the colloquium which will now serve as input into the on-going work of the GMO Panel in this area. A summary report with the outcome of the colloquium will be published on EFSA’s website

[1] Ability of a plant to reproduce and invade environments.
[2]  Guidance document for the risk assessment of genetically modified plants and derived food and feed by the Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) - including draft document updated in 2008  
[3] The level of confidence that can be attained from the statistical tests in relation to ERA.

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