The Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM) has conducted two research projects on the methodology used for identifying potential effects of GM crops on non-target organisms.
Applicants for permission to cultivate a GM crop must provide information about the potential effects the crop could have on ‘non-target organisms’. Non-target organisms are those organisms (including insects) that should not suffer any adverse effects from a GM crop, as opposed to organisms like insect pests, which certain GM crops are designed to suppress. Such crops are allowed to be placed on the European market only when the information supplied contains evidence that the risks to non-target organisms are negligible.
In the past, COGEM has raised doubts about the quality and the relevance of the scientific information submitted by applicants about the effects on non-target organisms. COGEM noted that this problem has its roots in the lack of standard criteria or guidance for studies on non-target organisms in the European licensing procedure. The Netherlands Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) asked COGEM to make concrete proposals for improving the methodology used for identifying potential effects of GM crops on non-target organisms. To provide a sound, evidence-based proposal COGEM commissioned two research projects.
The first research project, which was carried out in 2005, concerned the selection of non-target organisms for the investigation of potential effects of GM crops. The results are recorded in the report Effects of insect-resistant transgenic crops on non-target arthropods: first step in pre-market risk assessment studies (CGM2005-06). In response to this report COGEM issued an advice containing guidelines for selecting non-target organisms (CGM/051020-01). The report and accompanying advice provide an essential first step towards compiling guidelines for studies of the potential effects of GM crops on non-target organisms.
As a follow-up to this research project COGEM commissioned Dr D.S. Charleston and Professor M. Dicke of Wageningen University and Research Centre to examine how laboratory tests should be performed on non-target organisms. The results of this study, which was carried out in 2007 and 2008, are described in the report Designing experimental protocols to investigate the impact of GM crops on non-target arthropods. The report contains recommendations for improving and standardising laboratory experiments to identify potential effects of genetically modified (GM) crops on non-target organisms.