Regulating Future Genetically Engineered Crops With Confidence

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Room 306 (Hynes Convention Center)
Michael Rodemeyer, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
All technologies for improving crops, whether genetic engineering or conventional breeding, have the potential to change foods and plants in ways that can raise food safety or environmental concerns. Regulations that focus solely on the process by which a plant is modified are becoming less technically defensible as emerging genetic editing and other technologies blur the distinctions between genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding. All new plant varieties, regardless of the method used to create them, should be tested for safety if they have intended or unintended novel characteristics with potential hazards.

A tiered approach to safety testing can be developed that uses as criteria novelty (intended and unintended), potential hazard, and exposure. New -omics technologies—such as proteomics and transcriptomics—that can compare the DNA sequence, RNA expression, and molecular composition of a new variety with counterparts already in widespread use will allow such testing for novel characteristics, better enabling the tiered approach.

Regulatory authorities should be proactive in communicating information to the public about how emerging genetic-engineering technologies or their products might be regulated and how new regulatory methods may be used. They should also proactively seek input from the public on these issues. While regulation should be based on scientific risk assessment, it is also important to recognize that debates about GE crops have scientific, legal, and social dimensions, and not all public policy issues can be answered by science alone.