Researchers call for greater transparency on genetically modified crops

Scientists from North Carolina State University have recommended a coalition of trade organizations, biotech industry, government and non-government organizations, and academic experts to collectively work to offer the fundamental data about gene-edited crops.

Researchers call for greater transparency on genetically modified crops
To increase consumer trust, NC State researchers recommend transparency on gene-edited crops. Image Credit: Marc Hall, North Carolina State University.

The objective is to expose how plants or plant products are altered and offer greater transparency on the use and presence of gene editing in food supplies.

The concern is the U.S. Department of Agriculture rule known SECURE (which stands for sustainable, ecological, consistent, uniform, responsible, and efficient) announced in May 2020 and which controls the genetically engineered organisms. It is believed that this rule will exempt a majority of the genetically modified (GM) plants to pre-market field testing and data-based risk assessment. As a matter of fact, the USDA has predicted that this exemption will apply to 99% of biotech crops.

Jennifer Kuzma and Khara Grieger, both researchers from North Carolina State University, have stated in a policy forum paper published in the Science journal, that SECURE, which took many years in the making, still falls short in providing sufficient information to the public about gene-edited crops in the food supply.

Considering consumers’ interest in labeling information and GM food products, the lack of public data on gene-edited crops could reduce trust and confidence as they prepare to enter the marketplace and become more commonplace.

It’s pretty clear that consumers want to know which products are genetically modified and which are not, and we suspect that these desires will not be different for gene-edited crops.”

Jennifer Kuzma, Goodnight-NC GSK Foundation Distinguished Professor in Social Sciences, North Carolina State University

Kuzma is also the co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University.

Crop developers, including companies, have signaled that they want to do better with gene editing to improve public trust. We present a model for them to improve transparency and obtain certification based on providing information about their gene-edited and other GM crops in a public repository.”

Jennifer Kuzma, Goodnight-NC GSK Foundation Distinguished Professor in the Social Sciences, North Carolina State University

For greater transparency, the team from North Carolina State University has suggested the development of CLEAR-GOV, or a “Community-Led and Responsive Governance” coalition, that would offer access to basic data related to biotech crops in an accessible language.

That would comprise the species and a wide range of plants, types of trait modified, the better quality offered by the trait modification, downstream uses of the crop, and common areas where the crop is cultivated.

CLEAR-GOV would be operated via a non-profit organization staffed by specialists from a wide range of academic fields.

If leadership at a non-profit, independent research organization decided that this is something that they are passionate about, they could see a market value in housing this coalition and hosting this depository.”

Khara Grieger, Study Co-Author and Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University

Grieger is also an extension specialist in the Department of Applied Ecology at the same university.

CLEAR-GOV would bridge a significant gap for consumers and other stakeholders who wish to learn more about GM products in the marketplace, added Kuzma.

Because many gene-edited crops would be exempt under SECURE and new GM food-labeling rules may also not apply to them, there needs to be some information repository for companies that want to do the right thing and be more transparent. Our recommendations would provide a mechanism for that,” Kuzma concluded.

Source:
Journal reference:

Kuzma, J & Grieger, K. (2020) Community-led governance for gene-edited crops. Science. doi.org/10.1126/science.abd1512.

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