PANNA: Action Alert: Comments Needed on NAS Biotech Panel


Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

Action Alert: Comments Needed on NAS Biotech Panel

March 31, 1999

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently announced the formation of a panel to conduct an urgent new study regarding genetically modified crops containing pesticide genes, such as Bt crops. The Academy has asked for public comment on the proposed membership of the panel. There are serious problems with the panel's composition, and we urge you to send comments to the Academy by the April 6, 1999, deadline.

The stated purposes of this study are to review data which address the hypothesized risks and benefits of pesticidal crops; to examine the U.S. regulatory framework in light of identified scientific risks and benefits; to examine U.S. domestic regulatory framework to qualitatively assess social and economic impacts of existing statutes; and to provide recommendations on what research is needed to address scientific risks/benefits and, if warranted, the regulatory framework for genetically modified pest resistant plants.

Studies by the NAS usually take about 18 months, but this study will be conducted in a third of the time because of pressing questions in need of answers, according to the study's director, Michael Phillips. The urgency is apparently related to new regulations being developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on pesticidal plants, including Bt crops. Reportedly, a group of scientists who have been working in this field approached NAS and requested such a study because they fear that new EPA regulations may be too broad and restrictive. Environmentalists, consumer groups and sustainable agriculture organizations, however, feel that these regulations are not adequate to protect public health and the environment from potential negative impacts.

Here are some general comments you can make in your letter to the National Academy:

* The panel as it is currently constituted is weighted heavily in favor of the biotechnology industry. The panel should be re-constituted to reflect a full range of views of this technology. For example, the committee should include agroecologists, population geneticists, field ecologists and representatives of organic farming, environmental and consumer interests. As presently composed, the panel cannot address in a balanced manner the important and complex tasks it has been assigned.

* The NAS must require panel members to divulge publicly conflict of interest relationships with biotechnology firms, including research contracts, consulting relationships, stock options and clients. These conflicts must be published as part of the report.

To view committee membership and to send comments online, go to the current projects page of the National Academy website: http://www4.nas.edu/webcr.nsf/CommitteeDisplay/BANR-O-99-02-A?OpenDocument

Be sure to cite the project identification number: BANR-O-99-02-A.

You can also send comments by regular mail to:

Michael Phillips, National Academy of Sciences, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Harris Bldg., Room 394, 2101 Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20418

Sources: Council for Responsible Genetics Action Alert, March 30, 1999. "Altered Crops Will Get Safety Review," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 1999.

Contact: PANNA.

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