Expert opinion vs. empirical evidence: The precautionary principle applied to GM crops
Expert opinion is often sought by government regulatory agencies when there is insufficient empirical evidence to judge the safety implications of a course of action. However, it can be reckless to continue following expert opinion when a preponderance of evidence is amassed that conflicts with this opinion. Factual evidence should always trump opinion in prioritizing the information that is used to guide regulatory policy. Evidence-based medicine has seen a dramatic upturn in recent years spurred by examples where evidence indicated that certain treatments recommended by expert opinions increased death rates. We suggest that scientific evidence should also take priority over expert opinion in the regulation of genetically modified crops (GM). Examples of regulatory data requirements that are not justified based on the mass of evidence are described, and it is suggested that expertise in risk assessment should guide evidence-based regulation of GM crops.
Economic impact of GM crops: The global income and production effects 1996–2012
A key part of any assessment of the global value of crop biotechnology in agriculture is an examination of its economic impact at the farm level. This paper follows earlier annual studies which examined economic impacts on yields, key costs of production, direct farm income and effects, and impacts on the production base of the four main crops of soybeans, corn, cotton and canola. The commercialization of genetically modified (GM) crops has continued to occur at a rapid rate, with important changes in both the overall level of adoption and impact occurring in 2012. This annual updated analysis shows that there have been very significant net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to $18.8 billion in 2012 and $117.1 billion for the 17 year period (in nominal terms). These economic gains have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries. GM technology have also made important contributions to increasing global production levels of the four main crops, having added 122 million tons and 230 million tons respectively, to the global production of soybeans and maize since the introduction of the technology in the mid-1990s.
Unconventional P-35S sequence identified in genetically modified maize
The Cauliflower Mosaic Virus 35S promoter sequence, CaMV P-35S, is one of several commonly used genetic targets to detect genetically modified maize and is found in most GMOs. In this research we report the finding of an alternative P-35S sequence and its incidence in GM maize marketed in Jordan. The primer pair normally used to amplify a 123 bp DNA fragment of the CaMV P-35S promoter in GMOs also amplified a previously undetected alternative sequence of CaMV P-35S in GM maize samples which we term V3. The amplified V3 sequence comprises 386 base pairs and was not found in the standard wild-type maize, MON810 and MON 863 GM maize. The identified GM maize samples carrying the V3 sequence were found free of CaMV when compared with CaMV infected brown mustard sample. The data of sequence alignment analysis of the V3 genetic element showed 90% similarity with the matching P-35S sequence of the cauliflower mosaic virus isolate CabbB-JI and 99% similarity with matching P-35S sequences found in several binary plant vectors, of which the binary vector locus JQ693018 is one example. The current study showed an increase of 44% in the incidence of the identified 386 bp sequence in GM maize sold in Jordan’s markets during the period 2009 and 2012.
Investment, regulation, and uncertainty: Managing new plant breeding techniques
As with any technological innovation, time refines the technology, improving upon the original version of the innovative product. The initial GM crops had single traits for either herbicide tolerance or insect resistance. Current varieties have both of these traits stacked together and in many cases other abiotic and biotic traits have also been stacked. This innovation requires investment. While this is relatively straight forward, certain conditions need to exist such that investments can be facilitated. The principle requirement for investment is that regulatory frameworks render consistent and timely decisions. If the certainty of regulatory outcomes weakens, the potential for changes in investment patterns increases.
This article provides a summary background to the leading plant breeding technologies that are either currently being used to develop new crop varieties or are in the pipeline to be applied to plant breeding within the next few years. Challenges for existing regulatory systems are highlighted. Utilizing an option value approach from investment literature, an assessment of uncertainty regarding the regulatory approval for these varying techniques is undertaken. This research highlights which technology development options have the greatest degree of uncertainty and hence, which ones might be expected to see an investment decline.