The National Academy of Sciences reaffirmed GMO safety and pointed to the potential for future improvements
Genetic engineering could play a role in making crops more resilient to climate change, but more research is still needed to understand the technology’s potential uses, the National Academy of Sciences said yesterday.
In a sweeping 400-page report, the country’s top scientific group found there was no evidence to support claims that genetically modified organisms are dangerous for either the environment or human health. At the same time, the introduction of genetically engineered crops had little apparent influence on the rate at which agricultural productivity was increasing over time.
In the future, the academy said, researchers and regulators should be sure to evaluate the safety and efficacy of specific crops, rather than focus on potential risk posed by the process of modifying the plants.
“The technology is changing so rapidly, we needed to see where it is taking us in the future,” said Fred Gould, chairman of the NAS Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops, which conducted the report, and a professor of entomology at North Carolina State University.
The report takes an in-depth look at past research on and future potential of the often controversial application of genetic engineering to U.S. crops.
Supporters of the technology say genetically engineered, or GE, crops are necessary for meeting the nutritional demands of a growing global population. Opponents say that the crops could pose environmental and health risks, particularly over the long term.
Currently, most of the genetically modified crops commercially available have added traits that protect plants from pests and make them resistant to herbicides. But in the future, the technology could be used more to address crop vulnerabilities to climate change, by incorporating traits for drought resistance and for heat and cold tolerance, according to the report.
“Climate change will affect both the yields and the quality of produce in a number of ways. Increased temperatures will speed crop development and thus limit potential yields. In colder climates, increased temperatures may extend the growing season, particularly of crops with indeterminate growth such as cotton,” the committee members wrote.