NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Use and Abuse of Science in Policymaking

July 6, 2012

The modern techniques of genetic engineering offer plant breeders the tools to make old crop plants do spectacular new things. In the United States and two dozen other countries, farmers are using genetically engineered crop varieties to produce higher yields with lower inputs and reduced environmental impact, says Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

However, environmental and anti-globalization organizations around the world are rallying to ensure that genetically modified crops remain mired in regulations that will prevent their public consumption. This campaign persists despite the protests of the entire scientific community, which has banded together to trumpet the lack of danger posed by genetically engineers organisms.

  • Central to the argument of the scientific community is that genetic engineering is not a new process: classic methods have existed for hundreds of years.
  • Even the more modern modes of gene splicing have existed for decades, and no persistent malevolent outcomes have been measured that are inherent to the process.
  • Moving forward, then, various research arms of the scientific community have urged detractors to judge crops based on their characteristics and not based on their methods of creation.

In 1989, the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, commissioned academic experts to perform an extensive analysis of potential harms of the crops. They arrived at the following conclusions:

  • No conceptual distinction exists between genetic modification of plants and microorganisms by classical methods or by molecular techniques that modify DNA and transfer genes.
  • Crops modified by molecular and cellular methods should pose risks no different from those modified by classical genetic methods for similar traits.
  • If anything, because the molecular methods are more specific, users of these methods will be more certain about the traits they introduce into the plants.

Further, this lack of harm is accompanied by the potential to do enormous good for the world's malnourished population. Golden Rice, so named because of its comparatively yellowish color, is among those crops that would offer incredible health benefits: it has been genetically engineered to bring large amounts of vitamin A to the millions who die every year for lack of it.

Source: Henry Miller, "The Use and Abuse of Science in Policymaking," Regulation Magazine, Summer 2012.

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