By Fred Gould
Genetically engineered crops and their use in food are hot-button issues. People around the world have a wide range of questions and opinions about the agronomic, environmental, health, and socioeconomic, impacts of these crops. We entomologists have our own questions. How do genetically engineered crops fit into the spectrum of pest management strategies used in agriculture? What are their impacts on insect biodiversity? Will these approaches be overcome by pest resistance?
I’m serving as the chair of the expert committee for a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that seeks to answer those questions. The goal is to bring an independent, objective voice to the sometimes contentious debate around genetic engineering of crop plants with a study that reviews current understanding of the socioeconomic, agronomic, environmental, and health impacts of genetically engineered (GE) crops. In addition to assessing whether initial concerns and promises have been realized since the introduction of GE crops, the study is also focused on the opportunities and challenges related to genetic-engineering technologies coming down the pike. The committee plans to publish its report in the spring of 2016.
Since the launch of the study last year, the committee has heard from 80 presenters at a series of public meetings and webinars on a range of topics including RNA-interference technology, genome editing, food safety, the microbiome, and GE traits for insect and disease resistance. Members of the committee also participated in a workshop on pest management practices, which examined the trade-offs between different approaches to managing weeds, insects, and diseases, and compared environmental effects between different cropping systems, including GE and non-GE systems. The workshop featured May Berenbaum as its keynote speaker and contained presentations on integrated pest management practices, cover cropping, weed management and herbicide-resistant weeds, and insect ecology in agro-ecosystems.
More about the study—including recordings of all the presentations at the meetings, webinars, and the workshop—can be found at the study website, http://nas-sites.org/ge-crops. These resources offer great updates on the major issues in genetic engineering in agriculture and could be useful in teaching and extension. If you have comments for the committee, they can be sent through the website. I encourage you to explore and share the website and to stay informed about the study by subscribing to our email newsletter or by following the study on Twitter @NASciences_Ag, #GECropStudy.
Fred Gould is a distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University.