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Regulating transgenic crops sensibly: lessons from plant breeding, biotechnology and genomics

Abstract

The costs of meeting regulatory requirements and market restrictions guided by regulatory criteria are substantial impediments to the commercialization of transgenic crops. Although a cautious approach may have been prudent initially, we argue that some regulatory requirements can now be modified to reduce costs and uncertainty without compromising safety. Long-accepted plant breeding methods for incorporating new diversity into crop varieties, experience from two decades of research on and commercialization of transgenic crops, and expanding knowledge of plant genome structure and dynamics all indicate that if a gene or trait is safe, the genetic engineering process itself presents little potential for unexpected consequences that would not be identified or eliminated in the variety development process before commercialization. We propose that as in conventional breeding, regulatory emphasis should be on phenotypic rather than genomic characteristics once a gene or trait has been shown to be safe.

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Correspondence to Steven H Strauss.

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Competing interests

Bradford

Bradford holds no direct stock in companies that would benefit from a change in crop biotechnology regulation. He works for a land grant university that releases new crop varieties, and thus he or the University might benefit by increased grants or royalties associated with changes in regulations that would facilitate the release of GE varieties. He is the Director of the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, which is supported in part by the California seed industry as a whole from funds collected on seeds sold in California and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Bradford himself receives no salary or remuneration from this source. Some members of the seed industry could benefit from facilitated release of GE varieties. Bradford has conducted collaborative research with commodity groups and with agricultural companies funded through a UC-sponsored Discovery Grant program. Some of these projects involve genetic engineering. The Western Regional Seed Physiology Research Group, a voluntary organization of seed companies, supports research in Bradford s lab on seed physiology and technology.

Van Deynze

Van Deynze works for a land grant university that releases new crop varieties, and thus he or the University might benefit by increased grants or royalties associated with changes in regulations that would facilitate the release of GE varieties. He is employed by the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center, which is supported in part by the California seed industry as a whole from funds collected on seeds sold in California and administered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Some members of the seed industry could benefit from facilitated release of GE varieties. Van Deynze has conducted collaborative research with commodity groups and with agricultural companies funded through a UC-sponsored Discovery Grant program. Some of these projects involve genetic engineering.

Gutterson

Gutterson is the Chief Operating Officer of Mendel Biotechnology, a privately-held agbiotech company founded in 1997. He also has stock options in Mendel. Mendel is a developer of gene technologies for the improvement of plant performance, and has licensed its technology to a number of companies who are working to incorporate that technology into new crop varieties. Gutterson and Mendel would benefit from a change in GE regulations that simplify and reduce the regulatory burden on the development of biotech traits.

Parrott

Parrott works for a land grant university that releases new crop varieties, and thus he or the University might benefit by increased grants or royalties associated with changes in regulations that would facilitate the release of GE varieties. He has in the past, and continues to receive, a small proportion of his research funding from crop biotechnology or agricultural companies that might benefit from a change in GE regulations.

Strauss

Strauss holds no direct stock in companies that would benefit from a change in crop biotechnology regulation. He also does not consult or sit in the boards of such companies. He has in the past, and continues to receive, a small proportion of his research funding from crop biotechnology or forestry companies that might benefit from a change in GE regulations. He works for a land grant university that releases new crop varieties, and thus he or the University might benefit by increased grants or royalties associated with changes in regulations that would facilitate the release of GE varieties.

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Bradford, K., Van Deynze, A., Gutterson, N. et al. Regulating transgenic crops sensibly: lessons from plant breeding, biotechnology and genomics. Nat Biotechnol 23, 439–444 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt1084

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