In a massive new 420-page report, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops summarizes their findings on the effects and future genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Here are five facts you should know from the report:
1. Biologists have used genetic engineering of crop plants to express novel traits since the 1980s. But to date, genetic engineering has only been used widely in a few crops for only two traits — insect resistance and herbicide resistance.
2. Despite the claims by critics of GE crops, there is not evidence they have had adverse effects on human health. The committee examined epidemiological data on incidence of cancers and other human-health problems and found that foods that used GE crops were as safe as foods that used non-GE crops. Additionally, a large number of experimental studies provided reasonable evidence that animals were also not harmed by eating food derived from GE crops.
3. The committee found no conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between GE crops and environmental problems. They caution, though, that the complex nature of assessing long-term environmental changes makes it difficult to reach definitive conclusions.
4. The differing regulations about GE crops can cause trade problems between nations. For example, a GE crop may be approved for production in one country but not yet for importation into another or a GE crop-trait developer may not seek regulatory approval in importing jurisdictions, and this would raise the possibility that a product approved in one country may inadvertently reach a different country where it has not been approved. This type of “asynchronous approval” has caused trade disruptions in the past and are likely to continue.
5. New molecular tools being developed are blurring the distinction between genetic engineering and conventional breeding of crops. Traits could be produced with molecular tools that would appear to have similar risks and benefits, but the plants derived from one approach would currently be classified as genetically engineered while those derived from the second technique would be considered conventionally bred.