Although today only a few produce varieties have been genetically engineered (GE), a recent study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) proves critically important to the produce industry. The NAS report, Genetically Engineered Crops: Experience and Prospects
, takes a global, comprehensive look at GE crops, and these findings will bring a considered and balanced approach to public discussions and policy considerations around genetic engineering.
In the last year, the produce industry has seen GE apple, potato and mushroom varieties de-regulated in the U.S. and others are sure to follow. With the ever-increasing pressure to produce more food to meet a growing global population with diminishing resources, it is important that variety developers have a diversity of tools to employ, and that the regulatory systems ensuring those tools’ safety are both stringent and reasonable so as not to inhibit innovation.
The GE landscape has been a confusing one for policy makers and the public alike. The NAS report examines the research and claims around purported negative effects of genetic engineering and the benefits of current commercialized GE products. To insure a broad overview of the scientific, social and economic impacts of genetic engineering, the NAS committee* reviewed more than 900 research publications and 700 comments from the general public. The committee also heard presentations from 80 diverse experts who shared their knowledge of and experience with GE crops.
The NAS report is extensive but some of the key findings include:
- The lines between genetic engineering technologies and conventional breeding that once seemed so clear are now blurring. Multiple conventional and GE technologies may be encompassed in a single variety, and the same end product can be achieved by using conventional breeding or GE technologies.
- The NAS committee found no persuasive evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized GE crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops. This is consistent with previous NAS reports on GE crops.
- All technologies for improving crops, whether GE or conventional, have the potential to change foods in ways that raise safety issues. The NAS report recommended that products—rather than processes—should be the subject of review and/or regulation. The report further recommends a tiered approach to testing the safety of GE products where the end-product is studied using criteria like novelty (intended and unintended), potential hazard and exposure.
- The report examines newly emerging genetic engineering technologies (e.g., gene editing), how they may contribute to future crop improvement and the regulatory challenges they might represent. As the committee notes in the report, these technologies will make breeding changes more precise and expand the characteristics we can change or introduce that may increase crop yields and decrease crop losses or improve the qualities of the crops (e.g., nutrition, taste, shelf life, and other favorable attributes).
As we look to future breeding for fresh produce varieties
, whether that is disease or pest resistance, enhanced nutrition, improved sensory attributes for the consumers, weather tolerance or other benefits, this NAS report will likely contribute substantially to the public discourse and evolution of a balanced, science-based regulatory process that assures the safety of new conventional and GE varieties.
*Note: PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker was a member of the NAS committee that deliberated and authored Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects study.
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- Lines btw GE technologies & conventional breeding that once seemed so clear are now blurring #GECropStudy @pma http://www.pma.com/content/articles/2016/05/ge-debate