Pugwash: The Impact of Agricultural Biotechnology

Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
Nobel Peace Prize 1995

Pugwash Workshop

The Impact of Agricultural Biotechnology on
Environmental and Food Security

Mexico, D.F., 28-31 May 2002

Statement Issued by the Pugwash Workshop*

Founded in 1957 as a result of the concerns shared by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and other scientists regarding the posed by the advent of thermonuclear weapons, the Pugwash Conferences convene several scientific workshops and conferences each year on important issues relating to science and society. Recipient of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize with its co-founder and then President, Sir Joseph Rotblat, the Pugwash Conferences have been, for more than 45 years, an important forum for discussions of the social and policy ramifications of important scientific discoveries.

Today, the incorporation of modern biotechnology into agricultural production processes has generated new ethical, economic, social and environmental dilemmas confronting societies all over the world. Research into these biotechnologies has sparked an intense debate on the benefits and risks of implementing transgenic technologies into the world’s agricultural production, raising questions about the extent of our current knowledge as to the long-term effects of genetically modified organisms. In this context, the biological and genetic diversity of Mexico, both in wild and domesticated varieties (especially maize), makes the country an ideal venue for international workshops on these issues.

Organized by the Pugwash Conferences with financial and logistic support of the Mexican National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT), the Mexican Under Secretary for the United Nations, the Mexican Academy of Sciences, the National Institute of Ecology, and the Physics and Ecology institutes of the National University of Mexico, the workshop brought together 31 specialists from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Italy, Mexico, Norway, the United States and Venezuela.

As a result of the discussion, participants identified six principles which they felt should guide research and policymaking regarding agricultural biotechnology:

Current knowledge is insufficient for assessing the benefits and risks of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), especially in light of the long-term consequences these technologies may pose for the biosphere and future generations.
To that end, independent research and institutional capacity building within society is needed to identify and implement short- and long term research and to analyze, monitor and evaluate the environmental, economical, health and socio-cultural aspects of biotechnology developments.
Because many of the short-term and long-term consequences of GMOs remain unknown, certain activities should not be undertaken until more is known of their biological and social consequences. For example, current efforts to develop GM maize that produces non-edible industrial chemicals or pharmaceuticals are of grave concern because maize is an open pollinated, widely cultivated staple crop.
Mechanisms are needed to ensure access, by all sectors of society, to complete and appropriate information on agricultural and biotechnology developments and applications to all sectors of society. Of particular importance for evaluating and monitoring these is the deposit of, and access to, viable biological materials and detailed sequence information of the new genetic constructs of all GMOs.
Multiple strategies employing traditional and newly developed technologies, capacities and institutions, rather than over-reliance on one particular technology, need to be evaluated and promoted to ensure socially and ecologically sustainable agriculture. Strategies such as niche marketing, inter-cropping, precision and integrated farming, and techniques to conserve germplasm should be promoted and supported.
Informed participation by the agricultural, consumer and all sectors of society in the decision-making process regarding GMOs requires greater transparency, accountability and credibility on the part of scientists, government and the private sector.
Finally, participants at the workshop felt that the Pugwash Conferences should organize future meetings on the above issues. The complexity of the subject, in terms of both its technical aspects and social consequences, will be with us for years to come, generating intense discussion in both the scientific community and society at large.

* The above statement reflects the views of the workshop participants, and not necessarily those of their institutions or organizations or the Council of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

Workshop Participants

Elena Alvarez-Buylla Roces, Laboratorio de Genética Molecular, Desarrollo y Evolución de PlantasInstituto de Ecología, Mexico

Rodrigo Artunduaga Salas, Coordinador Bioseguridad y Recursos Genéticos Agrícolas, Instituto Colombiano de Agricultura, Colombia

Camilo Ayra Pardo, Jefe del Laboratorio de Biotecnología Ambiental del CIGB, Cuba

Andrés Barreda, Profesor Investigador de la Facultad de Economía, UNAM, Mexico

Raúl Benet, Greenpeace Mexico (observer)

Jeffrey Boutwell, Executive Director, Pugwash Conferences, Cambridge, MA, USA

Vernon Cardwell, Professor, Agronomy Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota, USA

César Carrillo Trueba, Revista Ciencias, Facultad de Ciencias, UNAM, Mexico

Ana María Cetto, Instituto de Física, UNAM, Mexico

Ignacio Chapela, Ecosystem Sciences Division, Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy and Mangement, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Alejandra Alicia Covarrubias Robles, Instituto de Biotecnología, UNAM, Mexico

Ana de Ita, Centro de Estudios para el Cambio en el Campo Mexicano, Mexico

Norman Ellstrand, Department of Botany & Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, USA

María de los Angeles Erazo, Periódico “Descubrir Latinoamericano”Revista “Conversus”, Mexico

Exequiel Ezcurra, Presidente del Instituto Nacional de Ecología, SEMARNAT, Mexico

José Carlos Fernández, Instituto Nacional de Ecología, SEMARNAT, Mexico

Tatiana Fiordelisio, Instituto de Fisiología Celular, UNAM, Mexico

Amanda Gálvez, Depto. Alimentos y Biotecnología, Fac. Química, UNAM, Mexico

Luis García Barrios, Coordinador de la División de Sistemas de Producción Alternativos, EL Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Mexico

Raúl García Barrios, Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, UNAM, Mexico

Jessica Hellmann, Centre for Biodiversity Research, University of British Columbia, Canada

Elleli Huerta Ocampo, Dirección Técnica de Análisis y PrioridadesComisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO), Mexico

Lev Jardón, Student/Young Pugwash, Mexico

Takeo Angel Kato Yamakake, Colegio de Postgraduados, Mexico

Jorge Larson, Coordinador del Programa “Recursos Biológicos Colectivos”, CONABIO, Mexico

Patricia León Mejía, Instituto de Biotecnologia, UNAM, Mexico

León P. Martínez Castilla, Instituto de Ecología, UNAM, Mexico

Jorge Nieto Sotelo, Instituto de Biotecnología, UNAM, Mexico

León Rogelio Olivé Morett, Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, UNAM, Mexico

Rubens Onofre Nodari, Universidade Federal De Santa Catarina Centro de Ciencias Agrarias, Departamento de Fitotecnia, Brazil

Sol Ortiz García, Asesora del Presidente del Instituto Nacional de Ecología, Mexico

Juan Pablo Pardo, Student/Young Pugwash, Mexico

Hugo Perales Rivera, Jefe del Departamento de Agroecología, El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico

Karla Peregrina, Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, AC, Mexico

Daniel Ignacio Piñero Dalmau, Instituto de Ecología, UNAM, México

Merardo Pujol, Head, Plant Department, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

José Luis Ramírez, Director Centro de Biotecnología, Instituto de Estudios Avanzados Carretera Nacional Hoyo de La Puerta a lado de USB, Venezuela

Silvia Ribeiro, Researcher / ETC Group, Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration, Mexico

Decio Ripandelli, Biosafety Unit, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Italy

María Elena Rodríguez Fuentes, Ministerio Ciencia, Tecnología y Medio Ambiente, Industria y San José, Cuba

Alberto Salazar, Instituto de Física, UNAM, Mexico

José Sarukhán Kermez, Instituto de Ecología, UNAM, Tercer circuito exterior, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico

Francisco Xavier Soberón Mainero, Director Instituto de Biotecnología, UNAM, Mexico

Ricardo Torres Carrasco, Instituto de Investigación de Biodiversidad Alexander von Humboldt, Colombia

Terje Traavik, University of Tromsö Scientific Director, GenÖk- Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, Norway

Mark Wheelis, Section of Microbiology, University of California, Davis, USA

articles post