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The release of genetically modified crops into the environment

These two highly informative papers - which offer overviews of current status and regulations and of ecological risk assessment - are an excellent overview of the current status of GM crops in commercial production, as well as those that have been approved for release. The regulatory mechanisms surrounding the release of GM crops in different countries are compared, followed by a balanced discussion of the issues surrounding risk assessment and its role in decisions involving GM technology.

The first paper contains a comprehensive list of over 40 transgenic crops approved for commercial release, and discusses legislation in the United States, Argentina, Canada, China, the European Union, Australia, Japan and other countries. The authors caution against "the regulation of risk turning into the risk of regulation", which would lead to a situation in which only a few multinational companies could afford to tackle excessive regulatory processes.

The science of risk assessment is addressed in the second paper, concluding with the socio-economic context of judgements surrounding GM technology. The various concerns regarding the environmental release of transgenic crops are thoroughly discussed, including the likelihood and possible consequences of the invasion of existing ecosystems, outcrossing, horizontal gene transfer, 'superpests' and secondary ecological impacts on biodiversity and other agricultural practices.

The authors emphasise that the plants developed by traditional breeding offer the most appropriate reference point against which the potential impact of a GM crop should be judged, and that these judgements must be made on a case-by-case basis.

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