Environmental change challenges decision-making during post-market environmental monitoring of transgenic crops
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- Sanvido, O., Romeis, J. & Bigler, F. Transgenic Res (2011) 20: 1191. doi:10.1007/s11248-011-9524-8
The ability to decide what kind of environmental changes observed during post-market environmental monitoring of genetically modified (GM) crops represent environmental harm is an essential part of most legal frameworks regulating the commercial release of GM crops into the environment. Among others, such decisions are necessary to initiate remedial measures or to sustain claims of redress linked to environmental liability. Given that consensus on criteria to evaluate ‘environmental harm’ has not yet been found, there are a number of challenges for risk managers when interpreting GM crop monitoring data for environmental decision-making. In the present paper, we argue that the challenges in decision-making have four main causes. The first three causes relate to scientific data collection and analysis, which have methodological limits. The forth cause concerns scientific data evaluation, which is controversial among the different stakeholders involved in the debate on potential impacts of GM crops on the environment. This results in controversy how the effects of GM crops should be valued and what constitutes environmental harm. This controversy may influence decision-making about triggering corrective actions by regulators. We analyse all four challenges and propose potential strategies for addressing them. We conclude that environmental monitoring has its limits in reducing uncertainties remaining from the environmental risk assessment prior to market approval. We argue that remaining uncertainties related to adverse environmental effects of GM crops would probably be assessed in a more efficient and rigorous way during pre-market risk assessment. Risk managers should acknowledge the limits of environmental monitoring programmes as a tool for decision-making.