Biotech report finds research gaps

Matthew Weaver/Capital Press The chairman of the Department of Community and Rural Sociology, Ray Jussaume was one of 10 scientists to work on the National Research CouncilÕs report.

Group: Crops offer 'substantial net environmental and economic benefits'

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

A Washington State University professor who worked on the National Academy of Sciences report on genetically modified crops says the biggest finding was where more research is needed.

The chairman of the Department of Community and Rural Sociology, Ray Jussaume was one of 10 scientists to work on the National Research Council's report, released April 13.

The primary goal of the committee was to assess whether the use of genetic engineering in agriculture is contributing to improved sustainability at the farm level, Jussaume said.

"Our overall finding was we really can't say, because there are a lot of gaps in the literature," he said.

In its key findings, the committee stated that "genetic-engineering technology has produced substantial net environmental and economic benefits."

But, the committee wrote, "The social effects ... have been largely unexplored, in part because of an absence of support for research on them."

The committee found research lacking in such topics as the effects of genetically modified crops on downstream water quality and the possibility of declining access to genetic diversity and of cross-pollination from the crops to weeds or unmodified neighbors.

The committee was asked to review existing scientific research and compile it, not do new research, Jussaume said.

Jussaume, lead author of the section on social aspects, believes the report is far more nuanced than most news stories may indicate.

For example, flow has not been observed from genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans to their weedy relatives, of which there are none in the United States. But, he said, that doesn't mean it isn't possible elsewhere.

"That's part of the nuance," he said.

To assess the full range of sustainability, he said, more research is needed.

The primary reason for gaps in research is probably the lack of resources devoted to studying the technology, Jussaume said.

The committee only focused on domestic issues at a farm level in the United States, not overseas or on consumers, Jussaume said.

The committee had to be careful to adhere to the science and not be influenced by perceptions of farmers or environmental groups, Jussaume said.

The report was reviewed by 20 people, including academic and professional scientists.

Jussaume said he sees tremendous potential for genetically modified technology, much of which is going unaddressed, particularly in minor crops. But the industry must make sure all scientific assessments are done, he cautioned.

"If we're only doing certain kinds of science and not other kinds of science, I think in the long run that could come back to haunt the farmers," he said.

Online

National Academy of Sciences: http://national-academies.org

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