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A Testbiotech report by Andreas Bauer-Panskus, Sylvia Hamberger, Christoph Then
November 2013


This “transgene escape” report documents several case studies where genetically engineered plants have spread uncontrolled into the environment. In some instances from North and Middle America, we can assume that transgenes from species such as bentgrass, oilseed rape and cotton have already escaped permanently into the environment or wild populations. In other cases such as maize (corn), rice and poplar there is a high likelihood that this will happen in the near future.

Apart from commercial cultivation and experimental field trials, there are further cases showing that the uncontrolled dispersal of genetically engineered plants can be due to the import of raw materials and transport of viable grains for food and feed production.

Several factors can facilitate the spread of transgenic plants.Besides some plants such as grasses with a naturally high potential for persistence and invasiveness, one further major factor in the uncontrolled spread of transgenes are wild relatives, which can cross with the crop plants where they are grown.

It is difficult to make reliable predictions which of the genetically engineered plants will persist or be - come invasive, and what their long-term environmental impact will be. The authorisation of transgen - ic plants with increased fitness to withstand changing climatic conditions will add to the uncertainty. Currently there is insufficient research into the causes and consequences of the uncontrolled spread of transgenic plants.

In some countries there appears to be a negative correlation between political support for the com - mercial growing of genetically engineered plants and a failure to research the risks of an uncontrolled spread of transgenes into the environment.

This report makes several recommendations: Most importantly, measures should be put in place im - mediately to stop any further uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered plants into the environ - ment as far as possible. Comprehensive regulation should be established to strengthen the precaution - ary principle and the release of genetically engineered organisms should not be allowed if they cannot be retrieved from the environment.