GM-food regulations: engage the public

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Your call to harmonize rules for genetically modified (GM) animals and plants (Nature 546, 327328; 2017) echoes scientists' pleas to modernize the 1986 Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology. The framework grants jurisdiction over biotechnology products to US federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yet urging researchers to scrutinize definitions and look for legal loopholes is impracticable. Increasing public education and engagement of the scientific issues concerning GM food should be researchers' main focus.

The importance of public engagement was illustrated decades ago with the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone in dairy cattle. The practice sparked widespread speculation about its safety and prompted the FDA's unprecedented decision to publish health and safety data ahead of formal approval, in efforts to allay public concerns (J. C. Juskevich and C. G. Guyer Science 249, 875884; 1990). The decision applied only to that case, but may become relevant in the future.

Policymakers should consider the growth-hormone case when outlining new boundaries for data disclosure and regulatory exemptions applicable to gene-edited products. Regulations must take into account the interests of GM-product developers to ensure that public disclosures do not undermine intellectual-property rights (see also

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  1. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA.

    • Paul Enríquez

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