NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Genetic Engineering Produces a Genuine Monstrosity

August 20, 2013

Government regulation has run amok and threatens advances in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) existing regulatory policy harms researchers, farmers and consumers alike, but there is little interest in resisting the bureaucrats, say Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, and Drew L. Kershen, the Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law (Emeritus), University of Oklahoma College of Law.

USDA's unscientific, overly complex regulation of genetically engineered crops is a historical fluke, which is an anomaly that originated more than a quarter century ago.

  • In 1986 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) published a policy statement on the regulation of biotechnology that focused oversight and regulatory triggers on the risk-related characteristics of products, such as plants' weediness or toxicity.
  • OSTP specifically rejected regulation based on the particular process used for genetic modification. (Genetic modification had been performed by a continuum of techniques for centuries.)
  • In 1992, in a second policy statement, the federal government reaffirmed the overarching principle for biotechnology regulation: The degree and intrusiveness of oversight "should be based on the risk posed by the introduction and should not turn on the fact that an organism has been modified by a particular process or technique."

Thus, dating from the 1980s, there has been a broad consensus in the scientific community (which has been reflected in statements of federal government policy) that the newest techniques of genetic modification are essentially an extension, or refinement, of older, less precise and less predictable ones, and that oversight should focus on the characteristics of products, not on process.

However, intent on building a regulatory empire, USDA heeded neither the consensus of the scientific community nor the directives from the White House.  The resulting unscientific, stultifying regulation has inhibited research and development, particularly in public institutions, ever since, and has provided an endless source of all manner of mischief, including superfluous, obstructive government bureaucracies; wasteful spending on poorly-conceived risk-assessment research; vandalism of field trials; bad-faith legal harassment; and endless nattering by the ill-informed and the ideological.

Source: Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen, "Genetic Engineering Produces a Genuine Monstrosity," Forbes, August 14, 2013.


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