Most will be familiar with the story “The Emperor has no clothes.” The Emperor, while parading around naked, proclaims that he has had an exquisite new wardrobe made, and is showing it off to his citizens. For fear of retribution the citizens all agree until a young child naively points out that the Emperor is indeed naked.
I feel there are some parallels with this story and our situation with the regulation of genetically engineered crops (also known as genetically modified organisms, or GMO). About 30 years ago, Canada and other governments of the western world put in place regulations around the release of these crops, requiring that they undergo significant screening to show that they were no risk in terms of food, feed or environmental impact.
While governments had to put in place significant resources and personnel to develop and oversee these regulations, the producers of these products, primarily private plant breeding companies, also had to invest significant amounts to collect the necessary data and deal with the regulators. Both governments and industry are finding it increasingly expensive as more and more products come to market. With new tools such as gene-editing, there will likely be even more work.
So how many such products of these new breeding techniques have been found to be wanting and not been released into the market because they were deemed a risk as either food, feed or environmental threat? Zero.
It disturbs me to see less-developed countries using valuable resources to implement western-style regulatory systems for such crops when those resources could be better used elsewhere and such technologies probably hold greater potential than in the western world.
Some people have made their careers debating from a pro- or anti-GMO point of view and organizations have developed on both sides, again taking resources that surely could be better used elsewhere. In addition we are devoting resources to develop international policies around Low-Level Presence (of GMOs) and GMO labelling for which there is no scientific basis.
Let’s get rid of these needless and expensive regulatory systems, deploy the wasted resources to where they can do more good, and return to where we were 30+ years ago when plant breeders used any process (traditional breeding, mutation, genetic engineering, gene editing) to produce new material that had value to either the farmer, the processor or the consumer, and let the market place decide the true value of the products of plant breeding.