Letter to the National Academy of Sciences on the National Research Council project: Genetically-Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects

September 2014

We, the undersigned, are academic scientists in genetics, breeding and agriculture and supporting fields. We have dedicated our careers to plant, animal and microbial genetics to ensure a safe, sustainable food and feed supply.  We recognize the contributions from both traditional breeding and genetic engineering to scientific research and to agriculture.  Accordingly, we applaud the importance the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) gives to the topic.

We are concerned, therefore, with at least three crucial aspects of the current National Research Council (NRC) study.  First, the scope of the study transcends science.  This is not to say that society shouldn’t consider these issues when setting policy; just that they have no place in a rigorous scientific analysis.

Two, the panel’s provisional members lack the expertise to address many of the points listed under the current scope of the study.[1]  As just one example, no scientist on the panel has hands-on expertise with the US regulatory system.

Third, and perhaps most important, we have a fundamental question of why this study and panel were convened, and why there is a need to review a topic which has perhaps been the most studied topic in the history of food and agriculture.  This biggest question is, Why is yet another NRC panel investigating GE agriculture/food when all the relevant questions have been addressed by earlier panels, especially the major studies from the NAS-NRC of 2002, 2004 and 2010?  We could understand if the issue was restricted to the ‘new’ technologies (cisgenic, genome editing, etc.), but even that would be a betrayal of the earlier lesson—that process (of modification) is immaterial to safety. There is no shortage of refereed literature on the topic—hundreds of papers are available[2], all of which relate directly to the scope of the current study. Yet we know of no new scientific justification for reviewing the findings, conclusions or recommendations of these earlier studies.

We recognize the importance of examining all available data from all legitimate experts in the field.  As it stands, the NRC is giving the same platform and credibility to a ballroom dancer/yogic flyer as to NAS members and other expert scientists.   It is important to recognize that opinions and anecdotes are not the tools we use; science depends on data, evidence and analyses.  The NAS should not be giving the impression that every idea or thought deserves equal recognition, regardless of the data and the underlying empirical science.  Would the Academy invite an astrologer to critique a study on planetary structure?   We therefore urge the NAS and the NRC to:

  • Suspend this study until these issues can be resolved.
  • Failing that, refocus the scope solely to the scientific aspects of modern breeding techniques, beginning with traditional biotechnology (rDNA breeding) and through RNAi, genome editing, and synthetic biology as compared to traditional methods.
  • Ensure that those who testify have appropriate credentials to address the topics.
  • Ensure that Committee members have the appropriate scientific credentials and experience to address these issues.

The NRC’s current agenda and scope tarnish the prestige and credibility of the NAS. It will also confuse the public with misinformation and disregard for scientists and the scientific method.

Sincerely yours,

Filed Under: Petitions

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