GM Science Review - Comments on First Report

Return to index of comments

Name: Michael H Arnold Location (optional): Whittlesford, Cambridge Date: 20 August 2003
Title (optional):
Wider Issues - A Plant Breeder's Perspective
Full comment:

From: Dr Michael H Arnold OBE MA PhD (Whittlesford, Cambridge).

I attach my contribution to the forum debate on GM, A Plant Breeder's Perspective.

Outline experience:

35 years' experience in plant breeding - 20 in Africa; 15 in the UK. Consultant to international organisations spanning a period of 24 years, including 8 years as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the CGIAR

The GM Science Review (First Report):
A Plant Breeder's Perspective

Over the years, plant breeders have routinely adopted new techniques. GM technology will eventually be seen as a natural continuation of that process, not as a fundamental change in the breeding systems required to produce successful varieties.

Some of the least predictable aspects of genetic change are those associated with genotype-environment interaction, where the environment includes everything affecting gene expression and phenotype success. This will not be changed by incorporating GM technology.

Moreover, GM need not imply the insertion of genes of widely different origin. There would be logistical advantages in gene transfer within a single species by GM methods. They would, for example, obviate the time-consuming use of the generations of backcrossing and selection otherwise required to transfer a single trait from a primitive variety or sub-species to an elite genotype of the same species.

The conclusion that the fate of transgenic DNA is no different from that of other introduced DNA, reinforces the inference that there is no functional distinction between GM and non-GM varieties. Hence, everything hinges on the screening necessary to detect and eliminate unwanted, or unstable traits. In future, as in the past, these routine tests must mirror those enforced by regulatory authorities. However, the more exhaustive the tests become, the greater the cost and the slower the rate of producing new varieties.

On a global scale, both food supply and environmental conservation depend on increased agricultural productivity. In this context, the risks of not using new technology might well be greater than the risks of releasing GM varieties, for which proof of absolute safety can never be achieved. The Panel does not analyse the possibilities of achieving a balance between these two risks.

It implies that, historically, the regulatory tests for new varieties have been inadequate. It recognises gene effect, rather than gene origin, as the important criterion. The Report does not make clear, however, why the Panel implicitly concurs with the philosophy that regulatory control of varieties should relate to the breeding system used in their development.

The Panel also implicitly accepts the ideology of organic producers. In particular, it does not challenge the assertion that organic crops differ from others in that they must be protected from out-pollination or seed admixture - an impossibility in practice, and a demand that runs contrary to the scientific philosophy on which the report is based.

Mike Arnold
August 2003