Some genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now qualify forfast track approval in Britain for release into the environment.The United Kingdom's Department of the Environment (DOE)recently released guidelines that detail the new proceduresunder which a specified list of GMOs will be guaranteedapproval within 30 days. The DOE said it is following the adviceof the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment(ACRE).

ACRE, a committee that brings together representatives ofindustry, unions, environmentalists and academicians, advisedthe Secretary of State for the Environment that some GMOspose a very low risk of environmental damage.

The DOE has concurred that GMOs identified by ACRE as lowhazard should be on the fast track for approval. The newprocedure will also apply to release of GMOs that do not pose arisk of damage if appropriately managed in the environmentand to repeat GMO trials.

The first round of GMOs covered by the new regulationsincludes maize, tobacco, tomatoes, pepper, beans, vegetablecucurbits (cucumbers) and sunflowers. The guidelines also spellout the genetic modifications covered by the new fast-trackprocedures. These include the expression of herbicidetolerance, pest resistance, and disease tolerances that do notresult from the use of cloned viral nucleic acid and alteredpigments.

The regulations also cover plants that carry non-coding DNAsequences intended to be used only as markers. This move willdelight plant breeders who see genetic markers as one way ofcombating the illegal trade in proprietary seed varieties.

Quick-track approval will also apply to potatoes, oil seed rapeand sugar beets, although for a shorter list of geneticmodifications. All plants are covered if the aim of themodification is to express changes in storage compoundsand/or to express changes in post harvest characteristics (e.g.,ripening).

ACRE hopes to add wheat, barley, lettuce and peas to the list inthe near future. The committee also plans to consider whethercertain types of virus resistance in specific plants are low riskfor environmental release.

The biotechnology industry is pleased with the fast trackprocedures. Nigel Poole, an official of Zeneca Seeds and memberof ACRE, said the Department of the Environment has done anexcellent job and predicted that application filings will beaccelerated.

DOE's new guidelines follow recent criticism by a committee ofthe Upper House of Parliament that biotechnology isexcessively regulated in Britain. The committee laid the blameon the European Union. Poole hopes Europe will take the sameapproach as the DOE, saying he thinks this is the right level ofregulation to protect the environment.

-- Michael Kenward Special to BioWorld

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.