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GMOs and Agriculture

Van Eenennaam, Alison L
May 2016

GMOs and Agriculture: Genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified (GM) crops and animals remain in the daily news. The U.S. Congress has been considering legislation to label foods containing GE or GM ingredients. This topic remains undecided and a public debate on the safety of GE or GM foods.

In a discussion paper published in 2013, Dr. Alison Van Eenenaam (University of California, Davis) goes into great depth in discussing research on the global adaption of GM crops; short and long-term animal studies designed to demonstrate safety of GM crops; molecular and biological changes from consuming GM products; studies to identify molecular compounds (recombinants DNA or proteins decoding for rDNA) in meat, milk and eggs from animals fed GE feeds; and estimates on the cost/benefit of GM crops. The review publication references 133 technical papers on the topic and develops the following conclusion:

“Hundreds of peer-reviewed animal feeding studies have repeatedly shown that GE plants can safely be used in feed, and rDNA fragments have never been detected in products (e.g. milk, meat, eggs) derived from animals that consumed GE feed. Given the 15 year history of safe use and absence of scientific evidence to suggest GE is associated with unique risks, whole food/feed animal feeding studies on GE crops should be reserved for GE crops where the novel phenotype results in a reasonable food safety concern that remains unanswered following all other analyses. Indiscriminately requiring long-term and target animal feeding studies based on a GE process-based trigger is not scientifically justified and will have an inhibitory effect on the development and commercialization of potentially beneficial GE feed crops in the future. World-wide GE regulations have disproportionately focused only on the potential risks associated with GE technology and commercialization of GE crops has been associated with a high regulatory compliance expense which has slowed adoption, particularly in small and poor developing countries. It is time for regulatory frameworks to consider the benefits in addition to any unique risks associated with GE technology. There are many current (increased yields, reduced insecticide use, improved feed quality) and potential future benefits of GE including feed crops with enhanced nutritional characteristics and durability. Regulatory frameworks should formally evaluate the reasonable and unique risks and benefits associated with the use of both GE plants and animals in agricultural systems, and weigh them against those associated with existing systems, and the opportunity costs associated with regulatory inaction.