CHICAGO-A two-year dispute between an 11-society scientific consortium and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency's proposed rule to regulate genetically modified pest-resistant plants has culminated in the near finalization of a rule that the consortium maintains is "scientifically indefensible." The crux of the consortium's concern is that the rule seeks to regulate inherited traits in plants as though they were chemical pesticides. Since the scientists' concerns have apparently been ignored to date, members of the consortium have proposed a risk- and science-based decision guide for incorporation in the final rule that would exclude safe plants from onerous EPA regulation.
"Calling plants 'pesticides' does not make any scientific sense," said Calvin O. Qualset, head, Genetic Resources Conservation Program, University of California at Davis. "The U.S. government stands alone among nations in viewing safe, pest-resistant plants this way."
In a series of six "yes or no" questions, the "Decision Guide for EPA Review of Plants with Inherited Traits for Resistance to Pests" would exclude from review as a "plant pesticide" any plant with an inherited pest-defense trait that is:
1) naturally-occurring and heritable, derived from plants of the same or sexually compatible species (i.e., gene transfers from one potato species to another);
2) new to the plant species and its sexually compatible relatives and results in changes in physical structure or form (i.e., leaves with hairs that prevent or discourage insect attack);
3) involved in defense mechanisms expressed as a cascade of biochemical and genetic events triggered by incompatibility between the pest and the plant (i.e., hypersensitive reaction or programmed plant cell death);
4) responsible for pest defense effects that are widely known and common within
the plant, animal, and microbial kingdoms, and are not characteristic
Contact: Angela Dansby
Institute of Food Technologists