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5th EIGMO Meeting in České Budějovice

Date: 28.6.2011 

The European policy in biotechnology - particularly in agriculture - is dominated by ideology and superstition rather than by facts and experience. Therefore any activity contributing to the scientific view has a large economical and political impact. The meeting of IOBC/WPRS (International Organisation for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants - West Palaeartic Regional Section) "ECOLOGICAL IMPACT OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS organized by the Biological centre of the Academy of Sciences of Czech republic was such important affair.

It presented research results on general as well as detail level. Naturally, they are positive and negative. Positive effect of genetically modified crops was presented by prof. W.D. Hutchinson, head of the Entomology Department of the University of Minnesota. The wide use of Bt-maize (22.2 mil. ha = 63% of all maize) in US resulted in general suppression of Ostrinia nubilalis population that in maize-growing states saved almost 7 billion USD over the last 14 years. Most important is the fact that over 4 billion was saved by the farmers planting conventional non-Bt maize. They did not pay higher seed price, but were able to reduce the insecticide application.

Negative impact was exposed by Prof. J. Soukup from the Czech University of Life Science in Prague referring about glyphosate-resistant weeds. Seven weeds from USA are naturally resistant and 14 more are the result of selection pressure of using HT crops (both of GM and non-GM origin). Four of those weeds are present also in Europe where no HT crops are used. This is the result of glyphosate use in orchards and vineyards and by application on railroads and other non-agricultural land (1000 tonnes of glyphosate are used in CR every year!).

Many presentations referred on detail studies of the effect of GM crops planting on non-target organism. We remember the star-hit of Greenpeace - the Monarch butterfly affair. Grains of pollen from Bt corn deposited on weeds near the field were claimed to be deadly danger for beautiful butterflies. What are the facts? First - very sensitive measurements in Germany and Hungary showed negligible content of Bt toxin in pollen. Second - at Aachen University quantitative measurements were made. The adverse effect on Aglais urticae and peacock (Inachis io) in the laboratory occurred at >300 grains/cm2 on the nettle leaf. The field measurements showed that nettle leafs growing just next to maize plant carried 30 to 70 pollen grains/cm2 only depending on wind. Nets of caterpillars were in average in 10 m distance, where the deposit was 2.4 grains/cm2.

Such collection of facts is one of the purposes of field trials. The other is the effect of factors network that is impossible to model in the lab. Revealing facts are unwelcomed by "ecologists" NGOs what is the purpose of the destruction of experimental field in many EU states.

Several contributions were devoted to the field study of insect and spider community in the GM crop field. Two-years study of the host Centre registered over 150 thousands insects and 22 thousands spiders in Bt and non-Bt maize field. No adverse effects of Bt maize were found. The study in Bavaria on ground beetles (Carabidae) with events carrying Cry1A and Cry3B toxins brought similar result. The UK study on Bt cotton found more aphids on Bt plants due to less damage of the Bt plants. The study at Szent Istvan University in Hungary revealed that the field of HT maize hosted less weeds but of higher diversity.

Certain facts were rather new. The study of GM trticale (Poland) brought information important for coexistence. Similar type of information was presented by the contribution from UK on in silico modelling of seed biology and survival of hybrids Brassica napus x B. rapa. The contribution from Spain characterised two maize pests (Mythimna unipunctata and Helicoverpa armigera) naturally insensitive to Cry1Ab toxin due to its decomposition in the insect midgut. Maybe, the alteration of amino acid composition of the toxic peptide might help.

Specific very interesting group of contributions dealt with GM insects. Insect modification was accomplished 15 years ago. Large-scale release of sterile male mosquitoes has been the most successful application (US, Mexico, Guatemala, Malaysia, Brazil) in control of malaria and other mosquito transmittable diseases. However, preparing about 50 thousands individuals per km2 once a week is not an easy task. Nevertheless, this method seems safer than e.g. the suggested transfer of natural knockweed pest Aphalaria itadori from Japan for control of Reynoutria spreading in Europe. Specific approach to risk assessment should be developed for GM insect and public information should go along.

Representatives of EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) informed on the work of this organisation. It is well founded on science thanks to the scientific GMO Panel. However, recent politics of EU in biotechnology indicates that the general methodology is not good. Policy makers are often faced with alternative decision: to approve or to ban a novel GM technology. The EFSA Panel prepared and presented the very detail assessment of the risk brought by GM technology. Media disperse it to public. This is the way how fear of GMO is induced to citizens and ban is preferred. As risk has no zero base, EFSA should first asses the risk of existing sc. "traditional" technology as a base and then define the positive or negative risk increment brought by the new technology. Policy makers and citizens can make the judgement of both information packages themselves.

The organisation of the meeting was perfect and there was enough time for a discussion. Participants lived in the Biology Centre and South Bohemia University campus. A visit of near bio-gas station was part of the accompany programme.

Author: Prof. Jaroslav Drobník


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