The Ecological Society of America has evaluated the ecological effects of current and potential uses of field-released genetically engineered organisms (GEOs), as described in this Position Paper. Some GEOs could play a positive role in sustainable agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, bioremediation, and environmental management, both in developed and developing countries. However, deliberate or inadvertent releases of GEOs into the environment could have negative ecological effects under certain circumstances.
Possible risks of GEOs could include: (1) creating new or more vigorous pests and pathogens; (2) exacerbating the effects of existing pests through hybridization with related transgenic organisms; (3) harm to nontarget species, such as soil organisms, non-pest insects, birds, and other animals; (4) disruption of biotic communities, including agroecosystems; and (5) irreparable loss or changes in species diversity or genetic diversity within species. Many potential applications of genetic engineering extend beyond traditional breeding, encompassing viruses, bacteria, algae, fungi, grasses, trees, insects, fish, and shellfish. GEOs that present novel traits will need special scrutiny with regard to their environmental effects.
The Ecological Society of America supports the following recommendations. (1) GEOs should be designed to reduce environmental risks. (2) More extensive studies of the environmental benefits and risks associated with GEOs are needed. (3) These effects should be evaluated relative to appropriate baseline scenarios. (4) Environmental release of GEOs should be prevented if scientific knowledge about possible risks is clearly inadequate. (5) In some cases, post-release monitoring will be needed to identify, manage, and mitigate environmental risks. (6) Science-based regulation should subject all transgenic organisms to a similar risk assessment framework and should incorporate a cautious approach, recognizing that many environmental effects are GEO- and site-specific. (7) Ecologists, agricultural scientists, molecular biologists, and others need broader training and wider collaboration to address these recommendations.
In summary, GEOs should be evaluated and used within the context of a scientifically based regulatory policy that encourages innovation without compromising sound environmental management. The Ecological Society of America is committed to providing scientific expertise for evaluating and predicting the ecological effects of field-released transgenic organisms.