GM Free Cymru

Cultivation-independent establishment of genetically engineered plants in natural populations: current evidence and implications for EU regulation

Date Added to website 7th March 2014

Andreas Bauer-Panskus, Broder Breckling, Sylvia Hamberger and Christoph Then

Corresponding author: Christoph Then

Environmental Sciences Europe 2013, 25:34 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-25-34

[Comment from GM-Free Cymru: This is an important review paper which gives many examples of the "escape" of GM crops from so-called contained situations into the wild and into adjacent non-GMO crops which are compatible. In other words, gene flow happens, containment is a mythical concept, contamination is inevitable, and coexistence is impossible. It couldn't be much clearer than that. Does it MATTER if GMOs escape from one farming environment and land up in another? The GMO industry claims that it does not matter, as long as contamination levels are low (beneath whatever threshold they choose to dream up) and as long as the "fitness" of the escaped GMO plants is no greater than the fitness of the non-GMO plants surrounding them. That is all very well if is assumed that there is no HARM associated with the GMOs. That assumption cannot be made so long as there are no reliable safety tests showing that the escaped GMO varieties are genuinely harmless to organisms in the environment (such as insects) and to mammals and humans if the material enters the food supply. Thus far, we do not know that. Therefore, according to the Precautionary Principle, the assumption of harm has to be made. The authors of this article also make the point that the Precautionary Principle is not being properly applied, in Europe or elsewhere, since no effective post-market monitoring is taking place -- as it should be, by law. Finally, they remind us -- and the regulators -- that if GMO escapes have happened, and if harm is deemed to have come from those escapes, extisting consents can and should be revisited and revoked.]


About 20 years after the market introduction of the first GM plants, we review whether or not uncontrolled spread occurred. We summarise cases documented in the scientific literature and derive conclusions for the regulation of the authorisation of new events. Several cases documented in North and Central America and Japan show that transgenes have spread beyond cultivation areas. Important examples are bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera), oilseed rape (Brassica napus) and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum). Several factors can be identified as relevant for transgene dispersal in the environment. Grasses (Poaceae), in particular, show a high potential for persistence and invasiveness, and wild relatives that can cross with the crop plants are a major factor in the unintended spread of the transgenes. There are significant uncertainties in predicting which transgenes will escape and how they will interact with the environment. For example, climate change is likely to have a major impact on the invasive potential of some plant species. The uncontrolled spread of transgenes is therefore a remaining challenge for regulators. We discuss some of these issues in the context of EU regulations since these regulations explicitly refer to the precautionary principle in the assessment of uncertainties. We found the that the precautionary principle as established in EU Directive 2001/18 can only be applied where efficient measures are available to remove genetically engineered organisms from the environment should this become necessary. If a removal from the environment would not be practically feasible, undesirable developments could not be mitigated.