Scientists argue for a new approach to regulate engineered crops

Scientists are often called upon to bring rigor and clarity to complex debates about the choices we make about health, environment, and society. In a recent Public Forum piece published in Science magazine, College of Agricultural Sciences Professor Emeritus, Carol Mallory-Smith, joined a cohort of recognized scientific leaders across several top-tier peer institutions to co-author a detailed review of an issue that continues to create confusion and debate globally: genetically engineered crops.

Titled, Toward product-based regulation of crops, the piece calls for a new approach to regulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. The authors make the case that safety testing is so dramatically varied among countries that they often lack scientific merit. This is increasingly a challenge as advances in crop breeding have made the distinction between conventional breeding and genetic engineering even more complex.

The authors argue for the creation of a more effective framework that would deploy additional “-omics” methods that have the ability to measure the molecular traits of different crop varieties more accurately. The authors acknowledge the complex global challenge presented by conflicting definitions and understanding of the health and environmental benefits and risks related to so-called genetically modified crops. The article recognizes how past power dynamics have caused “societal concerns to become entangled with claims about health and environmental safety.”

The piece acknowledges that while “a robust, trusted structure for assessing safety will not resolve culture- and market-based questions and debates, it should help to disentangle these issues. The omics approach presented here could serve as a basis for developing such a new structure. If instead we continue to maintain scientifically unsupportable regulatory frameworks, we can expect that the status quo of split public and government opinion about the safety and value of GE foods will persist.”

Other contributing authors to this Public Forum piece include:

  • Fred Gould, Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University and co-director of NC State’s Genetic Engineering and Society Center 
  • Richard M. Amasino, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Dominique Brossard, Professor and Chair, Life Sciences Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • C. Robin Buell, GRA Eminent Scholar Chair in Crop Genomics at the University of Georgia
  • Richard A. Dixon, Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of North Texas
  • Jose B. Falck-Zepeda, Senior Research Fellow at International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Michael A. Gallo, Jr.,Director Of Research Development at University of California, Irvine
  • Ken E. Giller, Professor Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University
  • Leland L. Glenna, Professor of Rural Sociology and Science, Technology, and Society, Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences
  • Timothy J Griffin, Professor and Director, Center for Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics, University of Minnesota
  • Daniel Magraw, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). 
  • Carol Mallory-Smith, Professor Emeritus College of Agricultural Sciences, Oregon State University
  • Kevin V. Pixley, Director of the Genetic Resources Program, The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center
  • Elizabeth P.Ransom,  Interim Director, School of International Affairs, Penn State University
  • David M. Stelly, professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, Texas A& M Ag & Life Sciences
  • Neal Stewart Jr. Racheff, Chair of Excellence and Professor of Plant Science, University of Tennessee

Because Science magazine requires a subscription, Carol also provided the PDF of the article.