| | english | español | français |
Go to record ID

  Home|Finding Information|Record details   Printer-friendly version

Information Resource
Record information and status
Record ID
Date of creation
2010-03-05 19:33 UTC (andrew.bowers@cbd.int)
Date of last update
2012-05-10 16:54 UTC (dina.abdelhakim@cbd.int)
Date of publication
2012-05-10 16:54 UTC (dina.abdelhakim@cbd.int)

General Information
Long-term effects of genetically modified (GM) crops on health and the environment (including biodiversity): Prioritization of potential risks and delimitation of uncertainties
Contributors (in alphabetical order): Detlef Bartsch, Hans-Jörg Buhk, Karl-Heinz Engel, Christoph Ewen, Gerhard Flachowsky, Achim Gathmann, Petra Heinze, Christiane Koziolek, Georg Leggewie, Anke Meisner, Gerd Neemann, Ulli Rees, Andrea Scheepers, Stefanie Schmidt, Elisabeth Schulte, Kristina Sinemus, Anja Vaasen
  • English
Publication date
Summary, abstract or table of contents
1) In the BEETLE study, genetically modified (GM) crops with traits already on the market in the EU or possibly so in the near future were assessed with respect to potential long-term (10-20 years) adverse effects on environment and health. They included the following major crop/trait combinations:

- Maize: insect resistance (IR)
- Oilseed rape: herbicide tolerance (HT)
- Sugar beet: herbicide tolerance (HT)
- Potato: starch modification (SM)

2) Information sources:

• more than 700 scientific publications about GM crops and their potential effects on the environment including biodiversity, and more than 100 publications about GM crops and their potential effects on human and animal health, which were published mostly during the last decade, were analysed,
• contributions to online surveys from 100 of 167 invited environment experts and 52 of 185 invited health experts, representing a wide range of expertise with focus on the EU were received,
• potential ways forward for reducing uncertainty regarding environmental effects were
discussed with 27 invited international experts in a CREA Space Workshop,
• input and guidance was received from a Peer-Review Committee of
international experts throughout the study.

3) In more than 20 years of experimental field releases and more than 10 years of commercial cultivation, adverse long-term effects reported in the scientific literature concern (i) the development of resistance in Bt crop target organisms and (ii) tolerance in weeds to complementary herbicides used in HT crops. No other adverse long-term effects have yet been established. However, other potential long-term effects are discussed in the relevant scientific literature and in scientific fora in general.

4) Resistance development in plant pests targeted by GM crops expressing protective Bt proteins, and tolerance in weeds to complementary herbicides used on HT crops, are long-term effects which were already anticipated from the risk assessments.

5) There is at least 10 years experience of cultivating GM crops worldwide and only few established long-term effects have yet been reported (insect resistance development in Bt crops, feralization of GMHT oilseed rape). Due to the nature of potential long-term effects,it is not yet possible to quantify the long-term risks associated with GM crops. However, the BEETLE study has identified a qualitative priorization concerning the processes linked to GM plants that could have long-term effects on the environment (including biodiversity) and health.

6) The following generic conclusions can be drawn:

���� Potential adverse effects due to 'Cultivation and Management' issues:
Long-term effects of GM crops are most likely to be caused indirectly through changes in cultivation and agricultural management of HT crops and consequently affecting wider biodiversity. The use of complementary herbicides can potentially change the management practice. These specific effects of such changes will depend on crop/trait combinations cultivated and possibly regional aspects. This process was clearly assigned with highest priority.

���� Established adverse effects related to 'Resistance development' in pests targeted by IR crops, particularly Bt: Direct long-term effects of GM crops (mainly Bt maize) are likely to become apparent due to resistance development in Target Organisms (TO).

���� Potential adverse effects on Non-Target Organisms1 (NTO) related to 'Gene flow to`wild relatives':

Gene flow regarding GM traits from GM crop plants to wild relatives should be considered in cases of GM plants that have ancestors in the natural European flora, especially for crops related to the Brassica and Beta species, which have sexually compatible relatives. Although gene flow as such is not an adverse environmental effect, the long-term consequences for species conservation and biodiversity might be relevant.

���� Potential adverse effects on 'NTO, ecological functions and the abiotic environment':

Long-term effects of GM crops on NTO (e.g. in soil), ecological soil functions, and the abiotic soil environment should be considered due to uncertainty indicated by the fact that only a few scientific publications are available. Long-term effects are most likely to affect NTOs closely related to TO of Bt maize (beetles and butterflies).

7) Long-term effects on animal or human health linked to GM crops have not yet been identified. However, forthcoming generations of GM crops will include more complex genetic modifications, e.g. more stacked events (several GM traits in the same crop variety) which could increase exposure to potential allergens and thus the potential for allergies to develop.

8) A tool for providing pre-market information2 on GMO characteristics is a database including novel bioinformatic applications guiding assessment of potential interaction between different genetic modifications, e.g. synergistic effects of stacked events (intended or unintended). Possible synergistic effects of proteins from intended and unintended combination of different GMOs should be considered during the ERA (according to Annex II of Directive 2001/18/EC) to improve the prognostic power of the long-term effect assessment.

9) The BEETLE report concludes that research studies, modelling and monitoring are appropriate tools to investigate long-term environmental effects during GMO cultivation close to practice. It proposes the development of indicators and databases for an appropriate EUwide surveillance of long-term effects on soil and other biodiversity resulting from GM crop cultivation and management. Potential indicators should be further developed over time by risk assessors and risk managers. The indicators for environmental monitoring should be selected in accordance with the crop/trait combination and the receiving environment.
Thematic areas
  • Risk assessment and risk management
Background material to the “Guidance on risk assessment of living modified organisms”
Is this document is recommend as background material for the “Guidance on Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms”
Section(s) of the “Guidance on Risk Assessment of Living Modified Organisms” this background material is relevant
  • 2. Risk assessment of living modified plants with stacked genes or traits
Additional Information
Type of resource
  • Report / Review / Fact sheet / Notes
Reference: ENV.B.3/ETU/2007/2007
Publisher and its location
Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety
133-page PDF file