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Environmental Effects of Transgenic Plants: The Scope and Adequacy of Regulation
and availability of food. Such research helps both scientists and the public understand what is at stake and how the issues might be viewed from differing perspectives. The potential for economic and sociological research has been well established in agriculture, and there is clearly a need for more studies that focus on biotechnology. The potential for philosophical, legal, and culturally-oriented research on issues in involving genetics has been demonstrated by the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) program associated with the Human Genome Initiative. This program has produced both scholarly studies and educational materials that help people go beyond initial reactions of enthusiasm or repugnance. The USDA has funded little research of this kind, and few U.S. colleges of agriculture offer training or coursework to prepare professionals for ethical decision making—coursework that is now routinely offered in medical schools. The possibility cannot be dismissed that at least some of the controversy and turmoil that have greeted genetic engineering in agriculture is due to this omission. The USDA should encourage the development of a systematic program of research and teaching on ethical, legal, and cultural dimensions of agriculture and food issues, especially as they involve genetic techniques.
Recommendation 7.3: Significant public-sector investment is called for in the following research areas: improvement in risk analysis methodologies and protocols; improvement in transgenic methods that will reduce risks and improve benefits to the environment; research to develop and improve monitoring for effects in the environment; and research on the social, economic, and value-based issues affecting environmental impacts of transgenic crops.