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Impact of transgenic plants on the ecosystem
ABIC 2004 Cologne: Biosafety research in the public eye

Genetically modified crops have been cultivated in the field for over a decade. This work has been followed up by biosafety research into the impact of such plants on the ecosystem. Biosafety research was originally a part of basic research, but it is now concerned more with outdoor trials conducted under conditions of normal agricultural practice. Thanks to regular biosafety research, a great deal of light has been thrown on the possible interactions between genetically modified and conventional crops.

Up to now, there has been very little public awareness of biosafety research or its results. Dr Allison Snow, President of the Botanical Society of America and Secretary/Treasurer of the International Society of Biosafety Research , has called for a wider public debate and for an ecological emphasis in biosafety research. “It's unfortunate that dispassionate, scientific studies are ignored, while exaggerated claims about the dangers of genetically modified crops dominate the news and the internet,” said Dr. Snow.

At the ABIC 2004 in Cologne , Dr. Allison Snow will be speaking during the plenary talks on Monday, 13 September 2004, on the ecological evaluation of transgenic plants.

New breeding methods and agricultural techniques invariably have an impact on their environment. All agricultural processes since the very beginning have interfered with the ecosystem. The use of gene technology in plant breeding can bring about unwanted or even negative side-effects – just like any other conventional method. The task of biosafety research is to identify and evaluate any such interactions.

Bio-engineering can speed up the breeding of crop plants and incorporate new crop characteristics by means of gene transfers. The cultivation of these genetically modified plants will also be followed up by biosafety research, with special attention to uncontrolled spread of the crop, possible transfers of new characteristics to related weed species, any harmful effects on the fauna of the ecosystem, and impacts on the ecosystem as a whole.

In this year of innovations, Germany will be acting for the first time as host country to one of the world’s major conferences and trade fairs on plant biotechnology, to be held under the motto “AgBiotech goes Europe”.

Investors, industrial managers, scientists and policy makers from all over the world will come together in 2004 for an intensive exchange of experience with a view to giving new momentum to the development of agricultural biotechnology.

The ABIC forum was set up in Canada in 1996 to discuss the results of research and development and facilitate joint ventures between research institutes and industrial partners. Previously the conference was always held once every two years in Canada . The ABIC 2004 is now due to be held for the first time outside Canada – organised by Phytowelt GmbH in Nettetal. Host country for 2006 will be Australia.

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