Agricultural Research Service scientists and staff have been key players in studies that assess whether genetically engineered (GE) crops present any threats to surrounding ecosystems. To date, the results have shown only negligible risks associated with these crops.
But new approaches that would support consistent risk assessment of GE crop use worldwide are still needed. Such guidance could be used in establishing standardized methods for determining whether GE crops are suitable for production in a range of agricultural systems.
Some 20 scientists have started to develop a scientifically rigorous approach for evaluating the potential risk, if any, that GE crops pose to nontarget arthropods worldwide. This team is made up of experts from ARS; the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs; U.S., Canadian, and European universities and agricultural research stations; European regulatory agencies; and the national and international private sector.
ARS entomologist Rick Hellmich, who works in the Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit in Ames, Iowa, is part of this new team.
“We want to develop a science-based approach to investigate whether GE crops could harm arthropods, such as lady beetles, butterflies, or spiders,” Hellmich says. “When the issue of GE safety first came up, it was a new area in science, with no clear protocol roadmap. By adapting existing protocols used to evaluate microbial insecticides, we were able to establish that Bt corn was not a hazard to monarch butterflies.”
Hellmich believes the results from this project will be very valuable to researchers worldwide. “A consensus approach focused on evaluating GE crops would allow us to develop consistent science-based methodologies,” he says. “This would help harmonize regulatory requirements between different countries and different regions of the world.”
The team will develop the approach within the risk-assessment framework already used in regulatory toxicology and environmental sciences around the world. This includes a focus on formulating and testing clearly stated risk hypotheses, making maximum use of available data, and using formal decisionmaking guidelines to move between testing stages.
The approach was described in the February 2008 issue of Nature Biotechnology.—By Ann Perry, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
Richard L. Hellmich is in the USDA-ARS Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Unit, Genetics Laboratory, Room 110, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-3140; phone (515) 294-4509, fax (515) 294-2265.
"A Consistent Approach To Evaluate Genetically Engineered Crops" was published in the February 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.