Position Statement on Crop Engineering

Background statement: Several advances in technology during the past half century made it possible to develop transgenic crop plants, also known as GM (genetically modified) or genetically engineered crops. The commercialization of these crops has been met with intense opposition from a few sectors of society. Scientific facts are often lost amidst the ensuing rhetoric and emotional debates. Given that the SIVB is honored to have one the largest groups of crop geneticists and biotechnologists in the world among its membership, the SIVB wishes to acknowledge the following statements:

  1. The vast majority of the crops used worldwide are the product of genetic modification and selection, both intentional and unintentional, which has taken place over the centuries. The result of this selection is that most cultivated plants have been altered to such an extent that they are distinctly different from their wild counterparts, to the point that they would not be recognized as even being the same species by the average person. Thus, grains, vegetables, fruits, and flowers that sustain people and enhance the quality of life today have modifications which humans found valuable, and therefore selected for, in providing food and pleasure for their families and communities.
  2. Genetic engineering extends the plant breeding techniques used during the past century. Genetic engineering differs in two ways from previous techniques which emphasized selection of randomly induced rare genetic variants. First, using methods in molecular biology, more targeted genetic changes are possible, which makes the identification and selection of variants more efficient. Secondly, it is now possible to transfer into crops DNA derived from essentially any organism, incorporate this DNA into the genome of the crop and regulate the synthesis of RNA and proteins from genes encoded on the new DNA sequence.
  3. The first generation of genetically engineered crops has provided several environmental benefits, by decreasing the use of insecticides and promoting the shift toward more environmentally friendly herbicides, and by increasing the productivity of land already in agriculture. Though genetically engineered crops have been grown over millions of acres, no claim of an adverse effect on humans or the environment have held up to close scrutiny.
  4. Additional research on genetic engineering is leading to the development of transgenic crops that have the potential to result in produce that is more nutritious and better tasting, crops able to resist a variety of biotic and abiotic stresses, and crops able to produce pharmaceuticals, biofuels, biodegradable plastics, and edible vaccines. Overall, these will contribute toward the stability and quality of the world’s food supply, as well as a significant improvement in quality of life for people around the world.
  5. Every commercial product of genetic engineering needs to be evaluated based on its unique merits and any potential risks to the consumer or to the environment. Historically, there has always been significant public debate concerning the introduction and applications of new technologies. Public policy and decisions concerning new technologies need to be well-grounded on the scientific facts concerning the benefits and risks of any new technology. The United States has an established regulatory system to evaluate risks associated with new agricultural and pharmaceutical products. Safety evaluation is conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-APHIS), and, in some cases, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under the auspices of these agencies, all crop and animal products that result from biotechnology are demonstrated to be safe as non-engineered versions of that plant or animal product, prior to their use by the public. This is an effective principle for guiding their regulation to safeguard human and environmental health and safety.
  6. The SIVB supports the current science-based approach for the evaluation and regulation of genetically engineered crops. The SIVB supports the need for easy public access to available information on the safety of genetically modified crop products. In addition, the SIVB feels that foods from genetically modified crops, which are determined to be substantially equivalent to those made from crops, do not require mandatory labeling. Current FDA food labeling practices require labeling if a food has a known human health issue, and allows for voluntary labeling of ingredients as long as the label is truthful and not misleading.The position statement on crop genetic engineering was prepared by the SIVB ad hoc Committee on GMO Policy, and presented for consideration by the SIVB membership. For additional information or comments on the statement, contact: Dr. Wayne Parrott, Chair, GMO Policy Committee, at wparrott@arches.uga.edu.

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