Candida's Translation Paper
AGRO8280 - Spring 2006
Safety and Public Acceptance of Transgenic Products
Patrick Byrne is an Assistant Professor in the Dep. of Soil and Crop Science in the Colorado State University; he has many years of experience working with an agricultural biotechnology outreach program. Based on his experience he believes that â€śthe process of reaching reasonable decisions on how to benefit from genetically engineered (GE) crops while avoiding their pitfallsâ€? has being hindered by â€śproâ€? and â€śconâ€? viewpoints in public debate. Here he highlights some areas he believes are significant on the topic of public acceptance and safety of transgenic crops
Public knowledge and attitudes about GE foods: Hollywood presents the impression that genetic engineering is dangerous and will direct to disaster, it is persuasive because of the public limited understanding about the technology. According to recent surveys in the U.S. less than 30% of consumers believed they had eaten GE food despite the fact that around 70% of the products available in supermarkets contain GE ingredients. A quarter of the customers think GE food is safe, another quarter disagrees and half was neutral or uncertain about safety. However, more than 40% believed in safety of GE food after were told about the amount of GE products available in the market, which to Byrne is an indication that regulation of the process is supported by consumers. Public acceptance varies among countries, while in the USA and Canada public is neutral, in Western Europe and Japan the public believes that the risk outweigh the benefits, but the opposite happens in China and Colombia. According to the literature it is due to some factors as natural risks are less feared than human-generated ones; new technologies are seem with caution; possibility of choice increases acceptance; trustworthy of people or institutions involved; and risk-benefit trade-off. Byrne believes that as more beneficial GE crops become more accepted they will be.
â€śNext generationâ€? GE crops: â€śGolden Riceâ€? is one example of nutritional enhancement; it was designed to ease vitamin A deficiency, which would be especially beneficial in developing countries. Another way to benefit consumers is increase the quality of oil profile in oil crops; nevertheless, differently from â€śGolden Riceâ€? other technologies might be effective and less expensive to increase oil quality when computed costs of the regulation process. Among all the â€śnext generationâ€? GE crops, those engineered to produce pharmaceutical proteins, called â€śbiopharmâ€? crops, are seem with more caution by many groups, including farmers, nutritionists and food industry.
Broader Concerns about the current agricultural system: Sustainability of agricultural systems is included in the public debate, being GE crops part of the discussion about to develop a â€śsustainable rural landscape for the futureâ€?, as wrote Freckleton in a letter to Science in May of 2004. Not that GE crops alone will determine the sustainability of the actual agricultural system, but additional monitoring and evaluation of these systems is required by the public.
Concerns with GE crop regulation: Byrne states that â€śensuring the existence of a credible regulatory process is the single most important factor in gaining public trustâ€?, giving the lack of time, interest or technical background in the general public to evaluate GE crops safety. To make the process more effective the system should act in a proactive mode, keeping up if the technology and public concerns; the fragmented authority of the three agencies currently in charge of the regulation process (USDA, EPA and FDA) should be addressed; increasing transparency by making the regulatory decisions quickly available for the general public, and increase public participation in the process.
Hope for the future: Several developments are taken place recently to improve the U.S. regulatory system. For instance, the USDAâ€™s intention to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement of its GE regulation process, revising expansion of its authority, regulation of biopharm crops grown in confined conditions, among others. Other initiative was doubling of funding for the Biotechnology Risk-Assessment Grants Program of USDA-CSREES, a program created to generate useful information to federal regulators of biotechnology in agriculture. Finally, publications are coming up with the concept of address â€śsafety issues at the earliest stages of GE product conceptualizationâ€?, i.e., â€śduring the design phase of GE crops to ensure that they meet national goals for food safety and agricultural sustainabilityâ€?.
Byrnes conclude that â€śfor society to benefit from GE crops, the most important step forward is to move away from polarized positions that have defined the transgenic debate so far, to positions of mutual respect that will allow a rational discussion of both the merits risks of the technology.â€?
Byrne, P. F. 2006. Safety and Public Acceptance of Transgenic Products Crop Sci. 46: 113-117.