Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"GE Crops Are Pretty Much Just Crops"

The National Academies of Science released their consensus report on genetically engineered crops today. The completion of a 2 year process by a 20 member panel of diverse experts from a variety of backgrounds reviewing the science and perspectives on genetically engineered crops. The study was meant conduct a thorough review and to address and inform the public of the results, to help guide the public discourse which was become ever polarized. 

Their mission: "Consumers in the US and abroad get conflicting information about GE crops. Proponents tout the benefits while opponents emphasize the risks. There is a need for an independent, objective study that examines what has been learned about GE crops, assess whether initial concerns and promises were realized since their introduction, and investigates new concerns and recent claims."

They examined:
  1. The history of the development and introduction of GE crops and the experiences of developers and producers of GE crops in different countries and regions.
  2. The history of GE crops that were not commercialized.
  3. The scientific basis of purported negative effects of GE crops (e.g., poor yield growth potential, deleterious effects of GE food on human and animal health, increased use of pesticides and herbicides, the creation of “super-weeds,” reduced genetic diversity, fewer seed choices for producers, and negative impacts on farmers in developing countries and on producers of non-GE crops).
  4. The scientific basis of purported benefits of GE crops (e.g., reductions in pesticide use, reduced soil loss and better water quality through synergy with no-till cultivation practices, reduced crop loss from pests and weeds, increased flexibility and time for producers, reduced spoilage and mycotoxin contamination, and better nutritional value potential).
  5. The scientific foundation of current environmental and food safety assessments for GE crops and foods and their accompanying technologies.
  6. New developments in GE crop and food science and technology and the future opportunities and challenges those technologies may present, including research and development, regulatory, and ownership, examined through the lens of agricultural innovation and agronomic sustainability.
While the report is nearly 400 pages in length, the report brief HERE summarizes their main conclusions. Or you can jump to their 16 page findings and recommendations chapter from the full report HERE

I was fortunate to be part of the process when I spoke before the committee in March of 2015. My topic was weed control in cropping systems. I spoke about our farm's experience with biotech, conventional and certified organic cropping systems which we did simultaneously. My presentation "

Integrating weed, pest, and disease management across crops within farming can be accessed HERE

As a result of watching this webcast, I have resumed my efforts to crunch the data from 2015 comparing our GMO to NonGMO production costs and yield data. I last blogged about that in one of my most popular posts GMO versus NonGMO: The Cost of Production. Its time I did the 2015 update. Preliminary data shows in soybeans, GM out yielded NonGM by over 25 bushels per acre. I haven't gotten to the corn file yet so stay tuned.

For me, this is an important report for several reasons, one because I was a presenter but second because I spent 5 years on the Advanced Technology in Food Production workgroup reviewing the same issue and science for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library. We were grading research articles to be used as part of the Academy's library as well as for updating the position paper on biotechnology. Our workgroup however, was limited to primary research on humans, no animal studies, no human cell lines studies which limited our results. I'm impressed with the depth and breadth by which the #GECropStudy committee undertook to delve into as many aspects of this issue and come up with as many findings. I look forward to reading their full report (which I ordered because I didn't not want to print 400 pages at home nor sit at the computer reading it for days on end).

The NAS GE Crop Study report affirms what we have seen on our farm since 1998 when we first planted 10 acres of biotech corn as a test plot to see for ourselves. It has been a benefit for our farm year in and year out. We like the lower impact of the herbicide and insecticide traits it provides. We like the premium that growing high oleic oil soybeans provides as a healthier fat for consumer benefits in removing transfats from packaged foods. We like the flexibility it provides us in managing our fields when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate and the reduction in tillage with no till and conservation till biotech contributes to so we preserve our topsoil helping keep sediment out of the Chesapeake Bay. 

My title came from a quote by Dr. Wayne Parrot that  I saw in the New York Times Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe, Analysis Finds and which I think is a good assessment: 

“The inescapable conclusion, after reading the report, is the G.E. crops are pretty much just crops. They are not the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”