Regulatory barriers to small-scale GMO production

FileStack_retouchedAfter my post on GMO and its enemies the usual suspects have been on the attack, accusing me of being a shill for Monsanto. The reality is that I’m a mammalian evolutionary genomicist. I don’t work in applied agricultural genetics, though I have no problem with that discipline. In fact, I’m a big fan. And, because of where I’m based out of I know people who work in and on GMO, and I know their motivations. I can tell you that they sincerely think their research is going to help people. In fact, feed people.

41rxx-UtsWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Nevertheless, a common refrain is that objections to GMO have to do with objections to capitalist mass agriculture. The issue isn’t the science of GMO, but big ag. As you know, I don’t buy this. But let’s set that aside. This spring one of the panels at the Biotechnology Literacy Project (BLP) Boot Camp had to do with government regulation of GMO. I was shocked by the greatly increased regulatory hurdles that GMO face in comparison to more traditional techniques (it’s analogous to what gene therapy studies have to go through).* This enormous overhead imposed by regulation means that small operations, in particular academic laboratories, can’t do viable research on GMO that can get funded. Though CRISPR technology opens up myriad possibilities of modification of food plants studied by a few labs here and there, no researcher can devote the resources necessary to jump through all the hoops placed in front of this work.

Which type of operations can handle this regulatory straight-jacket? You guessed it: Monsanto. That explains one reason so many mass production crops are GMO. That’s big ag’s bread & butter. So will anti-GMO activists, who are concerned with industrial agriculture, and not the genetic technology, argue for changing the regulations to make academic research more viable and accessible for small and medium sized labs? To my knowledge no one in that community is pushing for this.

* If you engage in some Google punditry you’ll encounter documents which suggest that GMO research approval is easier in the USA than elsewhere. This is true. But, from talking to those who work in the field it’s still a big haul for a normal sized laboratory.

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