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
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.