The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Scottish Executive Environment Group consultation on regulating the deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled by the General Secretary with the assistance of a number of Fellows with substantial experience in crop science, agriculture and the environment.
The RSE welcomes the new regulations. Regulations should allow for scientific advance, whilst at the same time recognising public concerns. They should be 'open' so that the results of regulation can be seen and accepted by as large a section of the public as possible. Regulations should also lead to confidence building both by industry that is researching and developing GMOs and in the public which has become suspicious of GMOs. These new regulations attempt to do this. In implementing these regulations, however, consideration should be given to a recent European Commission document on the precautionary principle (Brussels 2.2.2000 COM (2000) 1 Final), which stresses the need for proportionality and non-discrimination in applying risk management measures.
The different parts of the Scottish Statutory Instrument are addressed below:
Part I: General
With regard to Paragraph 5, in terms of the techniques of genetic modification, it is unclear why 5(1)a refers to 'nucleic acid molecules' whereas 5(1)b and c use the term ‘heritable genetic material'. The latter would seem to be a broader definition. In addition, it might be sensible to include a 'catch-all' clause for future techniques, in order to encompass the development of future methodologies which might lie outside the current definitions.
Paragraph 6 should refer to an Environmental Impact Assessment, rather than Environmental Risk Assessment, as the impact could have both risks and benefits.
Part II: Releasing organisms for any other purpose than marketing
The RSE supports the proposal for the advertisement of application for consent to release. However, consideration should be given to the length of time representations can be made to Scottish Ministers regarding the proposed release. Problems could arise if the time period for such representations was extremely short, say 10-14 days, as this could create a feeling of distrust. Therefore, the length of time for consultation should be sufficient for most people and bodies to be able to offer considered views.
Part VIII: Register of information
With regard to exclusions for confidential information (which should be kept to an absolute minimum), in order to increase public confidence in the regulations there could be merit in publishing at least a short description of the subject of that information and why it is confidential.
In responding to this inquiry the Society would like to draw attention to the following Royal Society of Edinburgh responses which are of relevance to this subject:
Review of the Framework for Overseeing Developments in Biotechnology (February 1999); The Scientific Advisory System-Genetically Modified Foods Inquiry (March 1999); The OECD Edinburgh Conference on the Scientific and Health Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods (February 2000); Inquiry on European Community Food Safety Policy (March 2000); The Assessment of Risk to Biodiversity from GM Crop Management (December 2000); The Adventitious Presence of GM Seeds in Seed of Conventional Varieties (April 2001); Possible Scenarios for the Uptake of GM in Agriculture (August 2001); Commission Proposals on Adventitious GM Presence in Non-GM Seeds (August 2001) and Developments on European Commission proposals on the traceability and labelling of GMOs and food and feed products derived from them, and on genetically modified food and feed (September 2001)