Risk Evaluation for Agricultural Biotechnology with Respect to Wildland Habitats
The future of U.S. agriculture depends on the ability to balance environmental quality concerns with the economic needs of producers. Consumers, public interest groups, organic growers, and other stakeholders have voiced concerns about possible risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs); these risks fall into the general categories of human health effects and environmental harm such as damage to non-GM crops, as well as other ecological impacts. Registration of engineered MPCAs for agricultural use raises concerns about non-target effects and possible invasiveness of the organism. These issues have resulted in increased pressure on federal and state regulatory agencies to ensure the safety of crops and animals generated by biotechnology with regards to the environment, human health, and biological diversity. Reducing uncertainty about these
issues will benefit growers of GM crops, in that it will help regulators to promulgate rules that are appropriate without being excessively burdensome, and may help to resolve litigation in this area as well. Evaluation of impacts is especially difficult when non-commercial interests are involved, such as preservation of biodiversity, protection of endangered species, or prevention of invasive organisms in natural ecosystems. A predictive framework that incorporates up-to-date scientific and technical knowledge is essential for informed planning and decision-making with respect to the agricultural deployment of GM crops, MPCAs, or other organisms, and also to shape the design of regulatory procedures. Relevant authorities need accurate information to determine, for example, permit applications, set-back distances for GM crops relative to organic crops and wildlands, and to allocate
resources for necessary monitoring. Legal measures that potentially affect interstate or international trade must have a scientific basis to comply with appropriate trade regulations. This is especially important for producers of GM crops, since the primary international trade barriers for GMOs currently are based on potential for adverse impacts of the imported organism, rather than on actual demonstrated adverse effects. High-quality information is also needed to support education and public awareness initiatives, in particular when it comes to controversial policies such as the widespread use of agricultural GMOs. This project will take a transdisciplinary approach to formulating risk assessment strategies for agricultural biotechnology with respect to natural environments. Existing and novel geospatially-based population models will be adapted to help predict the spread and
ecological effects of potentially invasive agricultural GMOs currently in use (genetically engineered crop plants; e.g., glyphosate resistant alfalfa and/or sugar beet) or proposed for use (a genetically engineered microbial pest control agent Beauveria bassiana). The project will integrate and evaluate these predictive models in the context of existing and proposed regulatory schemes, so that socio-economically efficient and justified management strategies can be implemented.