Policy Statements » Statements:
Genetically Modified Organisms
The Ecological Society of America, which represents 8,000 ecological scientists, supports the judicious use of biotechnology. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have the potential to play a role in sustainable agriculture, forestry, aquaculture, and bioremediation. However, both deliberate and inadvertent releases of GMOs into the environment could also have negative ecological impacts under certain circumstances. For example, fast-growing transgenic salmon might jeopardize native fish populations, or altered viruses for biocontrol of insects may have unexpected effects on non-target populations. GMO risk evaluation should focus on the product, but should recognize that some GMOs can possess genuinely new characteristics that may require greater scrutiny than organisms produced by traditional techniques of plant and animal breeding. Since long-term ecological impacts of GMOs may be extremely difficult to predict or study prior to commercialization, ESA strongly recommends a cautious approach to releasing GMOs into the environment.
GMOs should be evaluated and used within the context of a scientifically based regulatory policy that encourages innovation without compromising sound environmental management. The process by which this occurs should be open to public scrutiny. Environmental risks associated with GMOs should be evaluated relative to appropriate risk reference scenarios, such as conventionally bred organisms, with due consideration of the ecology of the organism receiving the trait, the trait itself, and the environment into which the organism will be introduced.
Engineered organisms that may pose some risk and hence require scrutiny include cases where there is uncertainty about environmental effects. These could be cases where:
- there is little prior experience with the organismal trait and host
- an organism may persist without human intervention;
- genetic exchange is possible between a transformed organism and unaltered
- the trait confers an advantage to the GMO over native species in a given environment.
An assessment of environmental risk is needed to minimize the likelihood of
negative ecological effects such as:
- creating new or more vigorous pests and pathogens;
- exacerbating the effects of existing pests through hybridization with related
transgenic plants or animals;
- harm to non-target species, such as soil organisms, non-pest insects, birds,
and other animals;
- disruptive effects on biotic communities; and
- irreparable loss or changes in species diversity and genetic diversity within species.
ESA urges scientifically-based risk assessment of GMOs and standards
appropriate for product testing and release into the environment. The Society
is committed to providing scientific information that can aid in the
development of GMOs with neutral or beneficial ecological effects.
Approved by the ESA Governing Board, May 2001.
The Ecological Society of America is the country's primary professional organization of ecologists, representing over 9,700 scientists in the United States and around the world. Since its founding in 1915, ESA has diligently pursued the promotion of the responsible application of ecological principles to the solution of environmental problems through ESA reports, journals, research, and expert testimony to Congress. For more information about the Society and its activities, visit the ESA website at http://www.esa.org.