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>Meanwhile, on a small island in Spain, a transmissible GMO with quite a different purpose has already been tested. It is a living vaccine that protects rabbits from myxomatosis and calicivirus. These diseases have decimated Spanish rabbit populations, causing consternation among hunters as well as affecting predators such as the threatened Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle. Australian farmers, by contrast, were only too happy when calicivirus escaped from a research station on Wardang Island in 1995. For them, the arrival of the Spanish virus would be a disaster, allowing rabbit populations to boom.

If the potential for international conflict is obvious, the means of preventing it is not. None of the researchers contacted by New Scientist knew who to consult in countries that might be adversely affected by the transmissible GMOs they are developing, what they would do if a country objected to the GMO, and what international laws govern the release of such organisms.

The confusion is understandable. Within the European Union, the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products must approve the commercial use of the Spanish GMO rabbit vaccine- and it is unlikely to do so given the current European distaste for GMOs, according to team member Juan Brcena of the Centre for Animal Health Research (CISA) in Madrid.

Around the world, various organisations have put out recommendations on the use of GMOs in general, but only one, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), is anywhere close to exerting control over transmissible GMOs. Earlier this year, a report from its Working Group on Wildlife Diseases again raised concerns about these organisms. The OIE has yet to establish an official position on the issue, but if it does, member countries would likely take notice. But for now, PAC-CRC teams in Australia only need permission from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator to release a GMO. The OGTR considers a GMO's pote
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Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
44-207-331-2751
New Scientist
27-Aug-2003


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