On the occasion of the Montreal Round of Talks of the Convention on Biological Diversity, PEER has re-released a devastating critique of the risk assessments employed by the United States prior to the widespread, commercial release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment.

Written by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists and peer reviewed by a panel of academic experts, the white paper, entitled Genetic Genie, was first issued in the fall of 1995. At that time, these agency scientists were trying to force EPA to reconsider its decision to allow the commercial release of its first GMO: rhizobium meliloti, a seed inoculant for soy containing genes from the pathogen bacteria that causes dysentery and other gastro-intestinal diseases. This trans-genic element was inserted in order to provide a “marker gene” that would convey a resistance to certain anti-biotics – the marker function is solely for commercial purposes, not to build a better soybean.

These EPA scientists were frustrated by the promotional nature of the EPA approval process in which environmental questions and safety uncertainties were not taken seriously. In addition, these scientists were becoming increasingly certain that merely rasing these questions was causing their careers within the agency to suffer. Cementing their resolve was the suppression of these same questions when they were raised by EPA’s supposedly independent scientific advisory committee, causing one prominent member to resign in disgust.

EPA reacted to the issuance of Genetic Genie by announcing the indefinite delay in the commercial release of the rhyzobium. Two years later, EPA quietly approved the rhizobium but, in a nod to the continued questions about its safety, limited its release to 500,000 lbs.

The passage of time has not diminished the accuracy or the urgency of the scientific critique contained in Genetic Genie. The same commerce-driven dynamics described in Genetic Genie are occurring today as American regulatory agencies struggle with overwhelming uncertainties while assuring an increasingly skeptical world that everything is safe.

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