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Published August 25, 2014, 09:52 AM

Research Council to assess if GMO promises realized

WASHINGTON — The National Research Council, a prestigious organization whose studies carry a lot of weight with policymakers and the general public, has invited severe critics of genetically engineered crops to testify at a three-day semi-public meeting in mid-September as it undertakes a review of agricultural biotechnology.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — The National Research Council, a prestigious organization whose studies carry a lot of weight with policymakers and the general public, has invited severe critics of genetically engineered crops to testify at a three-day semi-public meeting in mid-September as it undertakes a review of agricultural biotechnology.

Next month’s meeting is part of a study the NRC, the operating arm of the National Academies, has launched “to conduct a broad review of available information on genetically engineered crops in the context of the contemporary global food and agricultural system,” according to a section of the NRC website.

“The public gets conflicting information about GE crops. Proponents tout the benefits while opponents emphasize the risks,” the NRC said.

“The study will assess whether initial concerns and promises were realized since the introduction of GE crops and will investigate new concerns and recent claims,” the website says.

The study began in March and is expected to be issued in the spring of 2016. The NRC raises money to conduct its studies, and this one is sponsored by the New Venture Fund, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences.

The NRC’s decision to invite the critics, including nonscientists, has “caused quite a stir” among biotech advocates, said one advocate close to the situation, because some advocates think the NRC should focus only on science, while others say the way to raise support among the public for genetic modification is to allow the critics to speak.

Cathleen Enright, executive vice president for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, said her group supports the study.

“BIO and its members welcome the National Academy of Sciences’ overarching goal of providing an independent examination of scientific evidence on the impacts of genetically engineered crops,” Enright said. “Since 1987, the National Academies have issued numerous reports on GE crops, and all have reached the same conclusion: The risks of GE crops are the same as the risks of conventional crops. We are not aware of any new, scientifically valid research that calls into question the risks of GE crops, and therefore are confident this NAS committee will reaffirm the findings of all previous reports.”

Witnesses will include: Chuck Benbrook, Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University; Jennifer Kuzma, Goodnight-Glaxo Wellcome distinguished professor and co-director of the Center on Genetic Engineering and Society, North Carolina State University; Gilles-Éric Séralini, professor of molecular biology, Université de Caen; Jeffrey Smith, founder, Institute for Responsible Technology; Greg Jaffe, director of biotechnology, Center for Science in the Public Interest; Jon Entine, executive director, Genetic Literacy Project; Doug Gurian-Sherman, director of sustainable agriculture and senior scientist, Center for Food Safety; Tim Schwab, researcher, Food & Water Watch; Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist, Consumers Union; A National Family Farm Coalition representative. Sociologists have also been invited to testify.

Sessions in which the committee members discuss the research process are closed to the public, but the sessions in which experts and the public present testimony are open. The meeting will be held at the National Academy of Sciences Building, 2101 Constitution Ave. N.W. in Washington. The public is invited to attend on Sept. 15 from 1 to 6:15 p.m., and on Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 to 6:15 p.m.

Because seating is limited, registration to attend is required through the website by Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. EDT. The public meetings will also be webcast.

The next public meeting will be held in December.

For more information, vitist www.nas-sites.org/ge-crops.

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