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Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects

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Genetically Engineered Crops

Experiences and Prospects (2016)
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Genetically engineered (GE) crops were first introduced commercially in the 1990s. After two decades of production, some groups and individuals remain critical of the technology based on their concerns about possible adverse effects on human health, the environment, and ethical considerations. At the same time, others are concerned that the technology is not reaching its potential to improve human health and the environment because of stringent regulations and reduced public funding to develop products offering more benefits to society. While the debate about these and other questions related to the genetic engineering techniques of the first 20 years goes on, emerging genetic-engineering technologies are adding new complexities to the conversation.

Genetically Engineered Crops builds on previous related Academies reports published between 1987 and 2010 by undertaking a retrospective examination of the purported positive and adverse effects of GE crops and to anticipate what emerging genetic-engineering technologies hold for the future. This report indicates where there are uncertainties about the economic, agronomic, health, safety, or other impacts of GE crops and food, and makes recommendations to fill gaps in safety assessments, increase regulatory clarity, and improve innovations in and access to GE technology.


Suggested Citation

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

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Publication Info

606 pages | 6 x 9
  • Paperback: 978-0-309-43738-7
  • Ebook: 978-0-309-43741-7



Socioeconomic Issues in Developing Countries

The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 to gather information from invited speakers:

  • Samuel Timpo (00:05:38 mark), Associate Director, African Biosafety Network of Expertise, New Partnership for Africa’s Development
  • Matin Qaim (00:40:44 mark), Professor of International Food Economics and Rural Development, University of Goettingen
  • Justus Wesseler (01:21:05 mark), Professor of Agricultural Economics and Rural Policy, Wageningen University
RNAi Technology

The committee held a Public Webinar on Thursday, May 7, 2015, to gather information about RNAi technology. RNA interference (RNAi) is a natural process that cells use to turn down, or silence, the activity of specific genes.

  • Stephen Chan (00:06:00 mark), Harvard Medical School, provided an introduction to RNAi technology and discussed research investigating the biological effects of consuming small RNA molecules found in crops.
  • David Heckel (00:58:00 mark), Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, discussed strategies for using plant-mediated RNAi in crop protection.

Intellectual Property Issues

The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 to gather information from invited speakers:

  • Alan Bennett (00:08:20 mark), Executive Director, Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture, and Distinguished Professor, University of California-Davis
  • Diana Horvath (00:42:04 mark), President, Two Blades Foundation
  • Richard Jefferson (01:18:17 mark), Founder and CEO, Cambia, and Professor of Science, Technology & Law, Queensland University of Technology

Donor Organizations

The committee held a webinar on Thursday, April 30, 2015 to gather information from invited speakers:

  • Rob Horsch (00:07:07 mark), Deputy Director, Global Development, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • John McMurdy (00:43:20 mark), International Research Advisor & Scaling Team Leader, Bureau of Food Security, U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Brian Dowd-Uribe (01:11:09 mark), Assistant Professor, UN-Mandated University for Peace

GE Quality Traits

The committee held a webinar on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 to gather information from invited speakers:

  • Neal Carter, President, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, (00:06:55 mark), discussed the development of the Arctic® Apple, which is engineered to not brown when sliced, bitten, or bruised.
  • Mark McCaslin, Vice President-Research, Forage Genetics International, (00:35:13 mark), discussed genetically engineered traits in alfalfa that reduce lignin content and extend the harvest window.
  • Craig Richael, Director of Research and Development, Simplot Plant Sciences, (01:04:48 mark), discussed the development of the Innate™ potato, engineered to be less prone to bruising and to contain less asparagine, which reduces the potential for acrylamide to form when the potatoes are cooked at high temperatures.


The committee held a webinar on Monday, April 6, 2015, to gather information on the microbiome. Jonathan Eisen, University of California, Davis, provided an introduction to the microbiome, discussed lateral gene transfer from microbes to other organisms, and examined whether there is evidence that the herbicide glyphosate affects the human microbiome.

GE Trees

The committee held a webinar on Friday, March 27, 2015 to gather information from invited speakers. The speakers’ presentations addressed the state of the science regarding GE traits in development for tree species and governance issues related to the commercialization of GE trees.

  • Steve Strauss, Professor, Oregon State University (00:10:25 mark), discussed the economic and environmental benefits that genetic engineering could bring to tree species and the current state of the U.S. regulatory system with regards to trees.
  • Les Pearson, Director of Regulatory Affairs, ArborGen (00:52:05 mark) discussed the use of genetic engineering in ArborGen’s development of tree varieties and the advantages that genetic engineering may offer to challenges such as invasive insects and diseases that threaten forests and commercially produced trees.
  • Bill Powell, Professor, State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (01:20:40 mark) discussed his research to genetically engineer an American chestnut resistant to a fungal blight that killed the extensive chestnut forest in the eastern United States after it was introduced from Asia in the late 1800s.

Socioeconomic Issues in Industrialized Countries

On Thursday, March 19, the committee held a webinar in which invited speakers addressed adoption trends of GE crops in the United States, GE research and development investments in the public and private sectors, and public policy aspects of genetic engineering in agriculture. The webinar featured invited speakers:

  • Keith Fuglie (00:06:24 mark), Research Economist, USDA Economic Research Service
  • Lorraine Mitchell (00:50:58 mark), Agricultural Economist, USDA Economic Research Service
  • Seth Wechsler (00:32:40 mark), Agricultural Economist, USDA Economic Research Service
  • Peter Phillips (01:07:05 mark), Distinguished Professor, University of Saskatchewan

Safety of GE Foods, an NRC Report

Revisiting the 2004 NRC Report, Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. The committee held a webinar on Thursday, February 26, 2015 to gather information from two members of the 2004 report committee:

  • Lynn Goldman, Professor, George Washington University
  • Bettie Sue Masters, Distinguished Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Social Science Research

The committee held a webinar on Wednesday February 4, 2015 to gather information from invited speakers:

  • Mary Hendrickson (00:08:30 mark), Assistant Professor, University of Missouri
  • Matthew Schnurr (00:37:10 mark), Associate Professor, Dalhousie University
  • Abby Kinchy (01:15:55 mark), Associate Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The speakers’ presentations addressed how farmers and consumers participate in local food systems, the debate over the potential of GE crops to improve yields and livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the compatibility of GE crop production with social objectives.

*Audio with the presenter was lost at 01:22:18. The presentation resumes at 01:27:14.

Plant Breeding

The committee held a webinar on Tuesday, January 27, 2015, to gather information from invited speakers.

  • Jim Holland (00:05:05 mark) discussed how corn breeders in the public sector, those in universities and government agencies, have been involved in research and development of new varieties over the past several decades.
  • Jane Dever (00:34:13 mark) discussed the nuances of identifying and using valuable crop traits in cotton breeding, from both commercial and public breeder perspectives.
  • Irwin Goldman (01:03:25 mark) discussed the role of genetic diversity in crop breeding and the regulations that modern breeders encounter when developing new crop varieties.

GE Disease Resistance

The committee held a webinar on Thursday, November 6, 2014, to gather information from invited speakers on genetically engineered traits for disease resistance. The webinar featured:

  • Richard Sayre (00:07:03 mark), Senior Research Scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Consortium
  • Anton Haverkort (00:45:20 mark), Researcher, Wageningen University and Research Center
  • Ralph Scorza (01:33:00 mark), Research Horticulturist, USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station
  • Dennis Gonsalves (02:02:25 mark), Director, USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (retired).

US Agricultural Extension

The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, to gather information from invited speakers. The webinar featured:

  • Russel Higgins (00:06:15 mark), Extension Educator, Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center, University of Illinois Extension
  • Jeff Lannom (00:36:08 mark), Weakley County Extension Director, University of Tennessee Extension
  • Diana Roberts (00:51:55 mark), Regional Extension Specialist, Washington State University Extension
  • Dallas Peterson (01:23:10 mark), Professor and Extension Weed Specialist, Kansas State University

International Trade

The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, October 8, 2014, to gather information from invited speakers. The webinar featured:

  • Lee Ann Jackson (00:05:45 mark), Counsellor, World Trade Organization
  • Randal Giroux (01:35:33 mark), Vice President – Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory, Cargill, Incorporated
  • Lynn Clarkson (00:53:03 mark), President, Clarkson Grain

US Agricultural Extension

The committee held a webinar on Wednesday, October 1, 2014, to gather information from invited speakers. The webinar featured:

  • Dominic Reisig (00:04:03 mark), Associate Professor & Extension Specialist, North Carolina Cooperative Extension
  • Mohamed Khan (00:33:45 mark), Professor & Extension Sugarbeet Specialist, North Dakota State University and University of Minnesota
  • Rick Kersbergen (01:01:55 mark), Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
  • Ben Beale (01:20:30 mark), Extension Educator-Agricultural Sciences, University of Maryland Extension

Public Release Briefing

The report released May 17, 2016. Presentation by Committee Chair Fred Gould, North Carolina State University.

Public Release Briefing: Discussion

Q&A with Committee Chair Fred Gould and committee members, Richard Amasino (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Dominique Brossard (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Michael Rodemeyer.


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