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Elicitation of Expert Judgments of Uncertainty in the Risk Assessment of Herbicide-Tolerant Oilseed Crops

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One of the lay public's concerns about genetically modified (GM) organisms (GMO) and related emerging technologies is that not all the important risks are evaluated or even identified yet—and that ignorance of the unanticipated risks could lead to severe environmental or public health consequences. To some degree, even the scientists who participated in the analysis of the risks from GMOs (arguably the people most qualified to critique these analyses) share some of this concern. To formally explore the uncertainty in the risk assessment of a GM crop, we conducted detailed interviews of seven leading experts on GM oilseed crops to obtain qualitative and quantitative information on their understanding of the uncertainties associated with the risks to agriculture from GM oilseed crops (canola or rapeseed). The results of these elicitations revealed three issues of potential concern that are currently left outside the scope of risk assessments. These are (1) the potential loss of the agronomic and environmental benefits of glyphosate (a herbicide widely used in no-till agriculture) due to the combined problems of glyphosate-tolerant canola and wheat volunteer plants, (2) the growing problem of seed lot contamination, and (3) the potential market impacts. The elicitations also identified two areas where knowledge is insufficient. These are: the occurrence of hybridization between canola and wild relatives and the ability of the hybrids to perpetuate themselves in nature, and the fate of the herbicide-tolerance genes in soil and their interaction with soil microfauna and -flora. The methodological contribution of this work is a formal approach to analyzing the uncertainty surrounding complex problems.
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Keywords: Canola; GM crops; expert elicitation; herbicide-tolerant oilseed; rapeseed; risk assessment; uncertainty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Environment and Resources, Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, Denmark. 2: Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.

Publication date: 2004-12-01

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