3-Food: Lessons from a decade of genetically engineered crops
- To: GENETemail@example.com
- Subject: 3-Food: Lessons from a decade of genetically engineered crops
- From: GENET <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Wed, 8 Jan 2003 09:16:45 +0100
- Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
- Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
- Reply-To: email@example.com
- Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org
genet-news mailing list
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------
TITLE: Forum - Lessons From a Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Magazine
DATE: Jan 2003
------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------
Forum - Lessons From a Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops
In May 1994, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Flavr-Savr
tomato, the first whole food developed by genetic engineering. Approval
came after more than 5 years of scrutiny, including extensive gathering of
public comments. In this tomato, scientists had taken out a gene affecting
softening and reinserted it backwards. The result was a tomato that ripened
well and resisted spoilage longer.
We have come a long way since then. In 2001, U.S. farmers grew 88 million
acres of genetically engineered crops, mostly soybean, corn, and cotton.
Farmers liked the genetically engineered soybean and cotton varieties so
much that they planted them on about 70 percent of each crop's acreage. For
corn, the total was about 25 percent. Other genetically engineered crops
have been approved for commercial use, including papaya, canola, tomato,
potato, flax, squash, sugar beet, and radicchio. Notably, however, most of
these other approved crops are not grown today - including the Flavr-Savr
tomato - and some have never been grown, despite approval for release.
Why? What lessons can be drawn from this rather low success rate? One is
that genetic engineering does not solve all problems. Virus-resistant
squash was only partially resistant and thus did not replace the need to
control insects carrying the virus. As a result, it was commercially
unsuccessful. Another lesson is that the bottom line counts. The Flavr-Savr
tomato was exactly as advertised. But with the heavy investment in
research, it cost more than conventional tomatoes and didn't sell well
enough to become profitable.
Probably the most important lesson is, "The customer is always right." This
certainly pertains to the ongoing globalization of trade, which has
increasingly thrown together consumers from diverse backgrounds in a
marketplace that must serve them all. Especially in the European Union,
consumers began to voice distrust of this technology and created a backlash
against its large-scale use. Regulations quickly followed that require
segregation and labeling of genetically engineered foods. This gives
farmers a strong incentive not to grow genetically engineered crops
whenever exports to Europe might be a significant part of sales.
Regardless of consumer concerns, it remains true that genetically
engineered foods haven't made anybody sick. Debates over the last decade
have focused instead on specific scientific questions about the massive
introduction of genetically engineered crops.
Three major environmental questions were highlighted by recent reports from
the National Academy of Sciences. Might insect pests develop resistance to
genetically engineered "plant- incorporated protectants"? Will these agents
cause unintended damage to beneficial insects? Could engineered genes
spread to nearby vegetation?
Of course, all these questions can also be posed about nonengineered genes.
But the genetically engineered traits have been the subject of controversy
because they are presumed to be novel, without years of accumulated wisdom
about their impact.
This issue of Agricultural Research carries an article about genetically
engineered corn that resists rootworms (page 4). The corn rootworm enjoys
the dubious distinction of triggering more insecticide use than any other
single pest in U.S. agriculture. Genetic engineering may greatly reduce
this insecticide use.
The objectives reported in the article typify one type of our agency's
biotechnology risk assessment and risk mitigation research. Under this
umbrella are objectives as diverse as developing ways to prevent the spread
of engineered genes; confining the expression of engineered genes to
specific, nonedible tissues-such as roots, to foil root-feeding pests; and
documenting changes in pesticide movement into rivers and lakes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a competitive grants program
to support biotechnology risk-assessment research. Typically, the program
has funded 2- to 3-year projects, mostly by university scientists. In
contrast, the Agricultural Research Service carries out longer term
projects, such as testing of cropping strategies to suppress development of
resistant insects, and multiyear monitoring of the actual resistance level
of pests occurring with current farm practices.
Both ARS and grant-supported research will document the benefits as well as
the potential risks of genetically engineered crops. They both stress
comparisons to real-world production systems that pose their own risks,
such as heavy insecticide use to combat corn rootworm. The data, collected
by spending public funds, will be made available for public scrutiny and
provide a more complete foundation for science-based regulation of genetic
The future of genetic engineering is bright, with potential benefits
perhaps not yet imagined. But like all new technologies, it must be
deployed properly to prevent unintended consequences. Globally, consumers
have clearly demonstrated a desire for more information about the risk of
any unintended consequences, and this desire has limited markets for U.S.
Public confidence can arise only from public knowledge that regulatory
agencies are overseeing the new technology comprehensively, fairly, and
rigorously. USDA is playing an important role in the process through new
research to provide high-quality data to help regulatory agencies make
sound decisions. As a result of this lesson learned, the second decade of
genetic engineering in agriculture is expected to have many more success
stories than the first.
John W. Radin ARS National Program Leader Plant Physiology and Cotton
"Forum" was published in the January 2003 issue of Agricultural Research
| GENET |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
| Hartmut MEYER (Mr) |
| Kleine Wiese 6 |
| D - 38116 Braunschweig |
| Germany |
| phone: +49-531-5168746 |
| fax: +49-531-5168747 |
| mobile: +49-162-1054755 |
| email: email@example.com |