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Environmental Safety Assessment. Eric Silberhorn, PhD, DABT. What are the risks of direct or indirect adverse outcomes associated with the consumption of the GE animal as food or feed?. Direct or indirect effects from introduction of the GE animal into the environment?.

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environmental safety assessment

Environmental Safety Assessment

Eric Silberhorn, PhD, DABT

environmental safety

What are the risks of direct or indirect adverse outcomes associated with the consumption of the GE animal as food or feed?

Direct or indirect effects from introduction of the GE animal into the environment?

What are the direct and indirect risks posed to the GE animal?

(e.g., can surveying the health and other phenotypic characteristics of the animal inform us with respect to risk to the animal and potential human food safety concerns?)

Are the genotype or phenotype changing over the product lifespan in a way that would affect the risks associated with the product? Is there a plan in place to monitor those changes?

Does the insertion of the rDNA construct pose a hazard to the animal, humans, other animals by feed, or the environment?

Are there sequences that are likely to contain potential hazards to the animal, humans, or animals consuming food from that animal, or the environment? e.g., does the construct contain mobilizable sequences from viruses that may be endemic in that species?

Describes the animal, construct, and proposed claim

Environmental Safety

What hazards/risks have been identified in the hierarchical review?

statutory regulatory requirements
Statutory/Regulatory Requirements
  • Sponsor must submit Environmental Assessment/supporting data under INAD/NADA
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirement triggered by “agency action”
    • EA  FONSI? (finding of no significant impact)
    • If no FONSI, EIS (environmental impact statement)
environmental assessment general risk questions
Environmental Assessment: General Risk Questions

For a specific GE animal (population) containing a specific rDNA construct….

  • Risk(s) under conditions of use/free release?
  • Likelihood of escape/free release?
    • Containment/redundancy
  • Potential adverse outcomes associated with escape/free release?

Considered in context of appropriate comparator on a case-by-case basis.

conceptual model for risk assessment
Conceptual Model for Risk Assessment


Escape or


Accessible Environments

Biological Containment

Physical Containment

Able to Survive

Able to Reproduce



Net Fitness

Direct and Indirect Effects

Wild Conspecifics

Spread of Transgene(s)

Impact on Target Resources in Accessible Environments (habitats, wildlife)

Feral Relatives

conceptual model for risk assessment6
Conceptual Model for Risk Assessment
  • This previous slide is a flow diagram describing the steps that a risk assessor might follow in order to understand the risks associated with an environmental release of GE animal. The flow diagram begins with understanding the Source (the physical location in which the GE animal is being housed (e.g., farm, hatchery)). This includes a complete description of the physical containment that has been imposed on that source. The next step considers either intended release or the likelihood of an escape from containment. In the next step, the risk assessor evaluates the environments accessible to the released or escaped GE animal. The ability to survive comprises the next steps, followed by an assessment of either dispersion or the ability for that animal to reproduce considering any applicable biological confinement. If the animal is capable of reproducing, the next point of evaluation looks at the spread of the transgene(s) via horizontal transfer to wild conspecifics or to feral relatives. Another path from the ability to reproduce involves an evaluation of the ability of the GE animal to become established in the local environment. Finally, the assessment ends with a consideration of the potential direct and indirect effects that the released or escaped GE animal can cause to target resources in the accessible environments (e.g., habitats and on wildlife).
prioritization of concerns
Prioritization of Concerns

Consideration of the following factors:

  • Ability of GE animal to disperse into diverse communities upon release or escape
  • “Fitness” of GE animal within the receiving ecosystem
  • Stability and resiliency of the receiving community

Overall concern is a product (and not the sum) of these three variables

consequences of introduction escape and dispersion
Consequences of Introduction, Escape, and Dispersion

Depends on

  • Physical locations of use or release
  • Extent of containment (if applicable)
    • Physical
    • Biological (sterility, triploidy, monosex)
    • Geographical
    • Niche limitations
  • Domestication of species (ability to become feral)
  • Mobility of species
Genetic contribution by an individual’s descendants to future generations of a population

Fitness depends on both survival and reproduction

Net fitness components include

Juvenile and adult viability

Age at sexual maturity

Female fecundity/male fertility/mating success

* These characteristics are used to assess fitness regardless of an animal’s GE status


Does incorporation of the rDNA construct alter the animal’s fitness?

Potential examples of altered fitness

  • Disease resistance
  • Temperature tolerance
  • Growth factors / hormones
  • Nutrient/carbohydrate utilization
direct and indirect effects
Direct and Indirect Effects
  • Pathogen / disease transfer
  • Genetic disturbance
  • Resource competition
  • Displacement
  • Habitat destruction
  • Predation

Population changes

Community/Ecosystem disruptions

environmental assessment
Environmental Assessment

General Risk Questions

  • Risk associated with the goats in confinement?
  • Likelihood of escape?
  • Potential adverse outcomes associated with escape?


  • No environmental risks from confined rhAT goats, wastes
  • Escape unlikely (multiple levels of confinement, security, ID)
  • In event of escape without recapture, survival, reproduction, population establishment is highly unlikely

Note: EA/FONSI posted