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Have Transgenes, Will Travel: Issues Raised by Gene Flow from Genetically Engineered Crops

This paper reviews scientific evidence and opinions on the question of gene flow from transgenic crops. It provides a concise and readable overview of the key issues, published research, and current opinions of scientists working in this area.

Gene transfer between species appears to be fairly common, but new concerns have been raised by the potential consequences of gene flow from transgenic plants. For example, some farmers are worried about the economic implications of gene transfer to their 'non-GM' or 'organic' crops. Additionally, gene flow between crops and their wild relatives may cause environmental problems, such as the creation of weedy relatives or a loss of genetic diversity (although this is not unique to GM crops).

The document states that the potential problems associated with the introduction of a novel transgenic variety will vary according to the species, the introduced trait and the environment where it will be grown. Predicting the long-term consequences is difficult given the lack of long-term observation or systematic baseline data. The advent of pharmaceutical and industrial crops, not intended for food use, means that issues of gene flow and segregation are becoming of paramount importance. Agronomic management techniques and 'genetic use restriction technologies' could help to address these risks, but are themselves controversial.