Genetically modified foods are safe for humans and pose no special environmental risk. Yet there are serious policy questions to consider.
I appreciate the thoughtful responses of the contributors and their willingness to engage in this forum. They were able to cut through most of the widespread misinformation on food, farming, and genetics and all affirm the scientific consensus that the process of genetic engineering does not pose inherent risks compared to conventional approaches of genetic alteration. None disagree that the GE crops currently on the market are safe to eat and safe for the environment.
Nina Fedoroff, Greg Jaffe, and Rosamond Naylor address the regulation of GE crops. I agree with Fedoroff that the product, not the process of developing the seed, should be the target of regulation. Naylor sees a role for GE crops in fighting persistent hunger and improving rural incomes in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and she rightly emphasizes that appropriate biosafety protocols for GE crops need to be in place before planting new varieties. Each crop needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. In the specific case of bananas, most cultivated varieties are sterile, which simplifies regulatory evaluations.
Jaffe calls for more regulation of GE crops even though all those on the market in the United States have been through voluntary FDA review. Current regulations for all whole foods mandate FDA review only if there is a substantial change in content—that is, if they contain additives. Mandatory review is not required for GE products because they contain no additives and therefore are not substantially different from their non-GE counterparts. Changing that system to single out GE crops, regardless of their characteristics and for no scientific or health reasons, makes no sense.