Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants & Risk Assessment

Proceedings of the Conference, December 1st 2005, Literaturhaus, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The proceedings summarize the conference on “Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants & Risk Assessments” organized by the Öko-Institut and Greenpeace on December 1st 2005 in the Literaturhaus in Frankfurt. Seven speakers highlighted from different perspectives the complexity of genome regulation and of the so-called secondary metabolism, inherent uncertainties of the genetic engineering of plants, the challenge of facing and coping with knowledge gaps and last but not least the implication that these uncertainties have.

Several uncertainties are inherent to the genetic engineering of plants. These new insights should be taken into account before releasing GMOs into the environment. It is however questionable whether GMOs should be tested in the open fields and commercially released into the environment at all.

Seen the continuous approvals that the European Commission is granting, several concrete demands arose from conference:

  • The GMOs approved until now should undergo an in depth re-evaluation. Safety concerns not only apply for the genetically modified maize Bt 176, Bt11, T 25, GA 21 but also for the Roundup Ready resistant soybean.
  • There is a need of a systematic research on unintended effects and on side effects inherent to genetic engineering. This should be in fact conducted by the companies. Research is needed on the impact of genetic engineering on the complex and dynamic genome organisation and should systematically survey not only genetic and epigenetic alterations but also alternative splicing and the metabolism as well as the related potential risks, e.g. by unintended functions of proteins leading into physiological and or morphological alterations of the transgenic plants.
  • Risk assessment has to be continuously improved in order to take into account new results. The today’s risk assessment still focuses on the effect of the inserted gene on the environment and human health. Some consideration of the speakers on how to improve the current risk assessment are summarised in the Annex.

A continuous debate on a precautionary approach on the GMO policy is desirable. Modern technologies such as genetic engineering of plants need continuous debates to decide what kind of uncertainties is acceptable.