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GMO ERA Project

Picture of cotton being pickedIn  agricultural and natural environments, GM crops and their transgene products will come into contact with hundreds of non-target species that have important ecological functions.

The GMO ERA Project is a pioneering initiative driven by public sector scientists from many countries to develop tools to support environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The aim is to give decision makers the tools and training to help them decide what information and data are most important and appropriate for an ERA that is tailored to the GM crop and agricultural system in their country and region.

To date the project has examined case studies on Bt maize in Kenya, Bt cotton in Brazil and Bt cotton in Vietnam. The project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, IOBC Global, national ministries and several other funders. A steering committee for Phase I and II of the project were responsible for making key decisions.

Nick Birch (impacts on non-target organisms) and Ron Wheatley (impacts on soil ecology) from SCRI led working groups on ecological impact assessments at workshops in Kenya (2002), Brazil (2003) and Vietnam (2004), contributed to the publications and were part of the Project Steering Committee.

International Workshops

Photograph of a workshop taking placeThree workshops have been held in Kenya, Brazil and Vietnam, each consisting of two parts: Four days of work on the guidelines, by invitation only, and a one day public conference, open to all. Participants invited to the public conference included regulators, government advisors, representatives of industry and civil society organisations representatives, the project Advisory Board, and all core group members.

The key questions addressed at each workshop were:

  • how do you assess risks to such species and to biodiversity in your environment?
  • which species and ecological processes are most at risk?

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Risk assessment methodologies and training

GMO ERA Project members developed scientific methodologies for environmental risk assessment of GM crops during Phase I of the project. A flowchart showing the methodologies used in the project is below.

The methodologies consist of an introduction to the principles of risk assessment and five sections that address different types of environmental risk.

Photograph of GMO ERA project members in the fieldDuring Phase II of the GMO ERA Project, 2005-2007, the project carried out capacity-building activities to create Expert Training Teams (ETT)  to develop and validate teaching tools using the above methodologies for environmental risk assessment. The teaching is based on participatory and experiential learning, involving small group activities dealing with applied scientific problems. The ETT members have applied their own expertise to adapt the methodologies to their regional situation and have translated the teaching material into their local languages. Members of the Brazil ETT have already used the tools to teach a course at University of Viçosa, Brazil.

In Brazil, two ETT workshops in June 2006 and February 2007, and a series of working group meetings, brought together a team of highly competent researchers and teachers to develop teaching tools for an advanced course on methodologies for environmental risk assessment of GM crops.

In Vietnam, workshops were held to train Vietnamese experts on resistance (ie.target pests overcoming the Bt toxin expressed in GM crops) risk assessment and management and environmental risk assessment of biodiversity and non-target impacts.

In East Africa, the project has contributed to the development of expertise and training capacity in the BiosafeTrain project, following a successful international workshop in Kenya.

These ETTs will build the capacity for GMO ERA in their region by forging links with scientists and regulators in neighbouring countries and training other scientists, multiplying the ETT trainer pool.

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Books, papers and reports

Final report phases I and II

Image of GMO ERA Project publicationThe report explains the process of environmental risk assessment for GM crops which were developed at the three international workshops. The report summarises how to:

  • obtain an overview of kinds of potential adverse effects on biodiversity and non-target species from GM crops and how they relate to risk assessment endpoints
  • use the selection matrix tools to conduct a rapid exposure and adverse effects characterisation for functional groups of biodiversity, that results in a ranked list of priority species and processes associated with a potential adverse effect
  • construct hypothetical exposure pathways for species, using information on transgene expression, fate and movement of the transgenic plant parts and the transgene product, and food webs and trophic links
  • identify adverse effects pathways and how they relate to risk assessment endpoints and measurement endpoints
  • construct testable risk hypotheses and identify the key point that could falsify the hypothesis (and so disprove the potential risk)
  • design experiments in the laboratory, greenhouse and field and be able to judge advantages and disadvantages of each
  • learn how lack of information and uncertainty influence outcomes and approaches to deal with these, including precaution.

These methods enable local scientists and decision makers to reach their own decisions, based on transparent and scientific processes.

CABI books and related chapters

Kenya

Image of the Kenya book coverEnvironmental Risk Assessment of Geneticall Modified Organisms. Vol. 1. (2004). A case study of Bt maize in Kenya. (Eds) Hilbech, A. and Andow, A.E. CABI Publishers, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, U.K.

Birch, A.N.E., Wheatley, R.E., Anyango, B., Arpaia, S., Capalbo, D.M.F., Getu Degaga, E., Fontes, E.M.G., Kalama, P., Lelman, E., Løvei, G., Melo, I.S., Muyekhof, F., Ngi-Song, A., Ochieno, D., Ogwang, J., Pitelli, R., Schuler, T., Sétamou, M., Sithanantham, S., Smith, J., Van Son, N., Songa, J., Sujii, E., Tan, T.Q., Wan, F.-H. and Hilbeck, A. 2004. Biodiversity and non-target impacts: a case study of Bt maize in Kenya. In: Hilbeck, A. and Andow, D.A. (eds.).  Environmental risk assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms Volume 1: A case study of Bt maize in Kenya. CABI International, Wallingford, UK, 117-185.

Hilbeck, A., Andow, D.A., Birch, A.N.E., Fitt, G., Johnston, J., Nelson, K., Osir, E., Songa, J., Underwood, E. and Wheatley, R.E. 2004. Risk assessment of Bt maize in Kenya: Synthesis and recommendations. In: Hilbeck, A. and Andow, D.A. (eds.).  Environmental risk assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms Volume 1: A case study of Bt maize in Kenya. CABI International, Wallingford, UK, 251-269.

Brazil

Image of the Brazil book coverEnvironmental Risk Assessment of Geneticall Modified Organisms. Vol. 2. 2006. Methodologies for Assessing Bt cotton in Brazil. (Eds) Hilbech, A. and Andow, A.E. CABI Publishers, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, U.K.

Hilbeck, A., Andow, D.A., Arpaia, S., Birch, A.N.E., Fontes, E.M.G., Lövei, G., Sujii, E., Wheatley, R.E. and Underwood, E. 2006. Methodology to support non-target and biodiversity risk assessment. In: Hilbeck, A., Andow, D.A. and Fontes, E.M.G. (eds.). Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms Volume 2: Methodologies for assessing Bt cotton in Brazil. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK, 108-132.

Andow, D.A., Fontes, E.M.G., Hilbeck, A., Johnston, J., Capalbo, D.M.F., Nelson, K.C., Underwood, E., Fitt, G.P., Sujii, E.R., Arpaia, S., Birch, A.N.E., Pallini, A. and Wheatley, R.E. 2006. Supporting risk assessment of Bt cotton in Brazil: synthesis and recommendations. In: Hilbeck, A., Andow, D.A. and Fontes, E.M.G. (eds.). Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Organisms Volume 2: Methodologies for assessing Bt cotton in Brazil. CABI I Publishing, Wallingford, UK, 346-361.

Vietnam

Image of the Vietnam book coverEnvironmental Risk Assessment of Geneticall Modified Organisms. Vol.4. 2008. Challenges and Opportunities with Bt Cotton in Vietnam. (Eds) Hilbech, A. and Andow, A.E. CABI Publishers, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, U.K.

Hilbeck, A., Arpaia, S., Chen, Y., Birch, A.N.E., Fontes, E.M.G., Lang, A., Hong, L.T.T., Loveil, G., Manchini, B., Nguyen, T.T.C., Nguyen, V.T., Pham, V.L.T., Pires, C.S.S., Sujii, E.R., Trac, K.L., Underwood, E., Wheatley, R.E., Wilson, L.J., Zwahlen, C. and Andow, D.A. 2008. Challenges and Opportunites with Bt cotton in Vietnam: Non-target impacts and biological diversity risk assessment. In: Andow, D.A., Hilbeck, A. and Van Tuat, N. (eds.).  Environmental Risk Assessment of GMO's, Volume 4. CABI, Wallingford, UK, 115-137.

Andow, D.A., Nguyen, V.T., Hilbeck, A., Underwood, E., Birch, A.N.E., Tam, D.Q., Fitt, G.P., Giband, M., West, J.J., Lang, A., Quyen, L.Q., Hong, L.T.T., Lovei, G., Nelson, K.C., So'n, N.H., Huan, N.H., Hai, N.T., Cuc, N.T.T., Huynh, N.V., Uyen, N.V., Lam, P.V., Pham, V.L.T., Sujii, E., Hao, T.A., Hoa, T.T.C., Quang, V.D., Wheatley, R.E. and Wilson, L.J. 2008. Challenges and Opportunites with Bt cotton in Vietnam: Synthesis and Recommedations. In: Andow, D.A., Hilbeck, A. and Van Tuat, N. (eds.).  Environmental Risk Assessment of GMO's, Volume 4. CABI International Press, Wallingford, 330-344.

Published scientific papers, reports and proceedings

Hilbeck, A., Andow, D.A., Capalbo, D.M.F., Underwood, E., The Steering Committee. 2002. Development of international scientific biosafety testing guidelines for transgenic plants. In: VIII International Colloquium on  Invertebrate Pathology and Microbial Control, XXXV Annual Meeting of the SIP and VI International Conference on Bacillus thuringiensis, 2002, Foz do Iguassu. Proceedings. Foz do Iguassu. Embrapa Soja, n1⁄4 184, Brazil, pp.276-282.

Birch, A.N.E. and Wheatley, R.E. 2003. SCRI biosafety experts invited to assess potential risks and benefits of GM crops in Kenya, Brazil and Vietnam. Ambassadors Update. Dundee and Angus Conference Bureau 2.

Hilbeck, A. and the Steering Committee of the GMO Guidelines Project. 2003. The GMO guidelines project: development of international scientific environmental biosafety testing guidelines for transgenic plants. In: Ehler, L.E. and Sforza, R. (eds.) Genetics, Evolution and Biological Control. CABI Publishing, Wallingford, UK.

Birch, A.N.E., Arpaia, S., Lövei, G.L., Sétamou, M., Sithanantham, S., Wheatley, R., Hilbeck, A. and Andow, D.A. 2004. Selection procedure to study ecological impact of GM plants: a case study of Bt-maize in Kenya. 8th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, Montpellier, France. 31-32.

Birch, A.N.E., Boag, B., Newton, A.C., Gordon, S.C., Fenton, B., Malloch, G., Hallett, P.D., Iannetta, P.P.M., Stephens, S.E., Neilson, S., Wright, G.M., Marshall, B., McKenzie, B.M., Squire, G.R., Gill, P. and Wheatley, R.E. Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute 2003/2004. The SCRI LEAF Innovation Centre: Agro-ecosystem research which develops and promotes sustainable agriculture strategies and policies for Scotland, UK and Europe. Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee, 107-114.

Arpaia, S., Birch, A.N.E., Lövei, G.L., Setamou, M., Sithanantham, S., Wheatley, R., Hilbeck, A. and Andow, D.A. 2004. Selection procedure to study ecological impact of GM plants: A case study of Bt-maize in Kenya. In: Yu-Yuan Guo, Yi-Lin Zhou, Xia-Yu Duan (eds.) Plant Protection towards the 21st Century - Proceedings of the 15th International Plant Protection Congress, Beijing, China. Foreign Languages Press, p.279.

Wheatley, R.E., Hawes, C., Daniell, T.J. and Birch, A.N.E. 2006. Management impacts on arable diversity and function. Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute 2005, 40-41.

Arpaia, S., Birch, A.N.E., Lövei, G.L., Sétamou, M., Sithanantham, S., Wheatley, R.E., Hilbeck, A. and Andow, D.A. 2004. Selection procedure to study ecological impact of GM plants: a case study of Bt-maize in Kenya. Proceedings of the 15th International Plant Protection Conference, Beijing, May 2004.

Andow, D.A., Birch, A.N.E., Dusi, A., Fontes, M.G., Hilbeck, A., Lang, A.,  Lövei,G.,  Pires, C.S., Sujii, E.R., Underwood,E., Wheatley, R.E. 2006. Non-target and biodiversity ecological risk assessment for GM crops. Proceedings of 9th International Symposium on the Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (ISBR), September 24-29 2006, Jeju Island, Korea, pp 68-73.

See the GMO ERA website publications page for a list of all papers and publications.

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