Use of Expert Committees

Although not always required, expert committees offer an invaluable adjunct to risk assessors. They not only expand the pool of expertise brought to bear on specific issues, but also provide stimulating debate around the limitations of scientific data to arrive at conclusions and the uncertainties that must be considered. These advisory groups have been used successfully for many years.

Already limited in the supply of national experts, developing countries with active biotechnology research programs may be particularly hard pressed to find independent reviewers/assessors without a conflict of interest. This gap may be partially filled through regional cooperation or the use of expertise from the larger international commu nity. The costs of assembling such experts must be taken into consideration. Alternatively, making experience and information available in written form may help to fill the void. In a practical sense, however, providing useful, relevant information is not a trivial task and, in fact, may be limited.

Scientific Issues for Environmental

Risk Assessment

Concerns about the impact that GMOs may have on the environment center around their potential to displace or "genetically contaminate" native species and their potential to cause deleterious effects on other organisms. Either consequence could disturb existing ecological relationships or in some unintended way change the living (biotic) or nonliving (abiotic) components of the surrounding ecosystem. Of primary concern is the potential threat to the biodiversity of organisms living in and around a commercial release site.

The negative environmental impacts associated with agricultural biotechnology products can be generally grouped into four areas: weediness, gene flow, pest or pathogen effects, and toxicity to other organisms. Food-safety evaluations address a very different set of potential concerns and typically are handled through a different government agency. (A brief treatment of the subject may be found in "Human Health and Food Safety" on page 33.) Because of the differences between field tests and commercial releases in terms of scale, physical control, management options, and other parameters, risk issues are viewed somewhat differently for the two types of release.

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