Why did the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study GE crops?

Consumers in the United States and abroad get conflicting information about GE crops.  Proponents tout the benefits while opponents emphasize the risks.  There was a need for an independent, objective study to examine what had been learned about GE crops, assesses whether initial concerns and promises were realized since their introduction, and investigates new concerns and recent claims.

What was the goal of this study?

The study informed the public discourse.  It reviewed GE crops and food in the context of the contemporary global food and agricultural system. It examined:

  • The history of the development and introduction of GE crops and the experiences of developers and producers of GE crops in different countries and regions.
  • The history of GE crops that were not commercialized.
  • The scientific basis of purported negative effects of GE crops (e.g., poor yield growth potential, deleterious effects of GE food on human and animal health, increased use of pesticides and herbicides, the creation of “super-weeds,” reduced genetic diversity, fewer seed choices for producers, and negative impacts on farmers in developing countries and on producers of non-GE crops).
  • The scientific basis of purported benefits of GE crops (e.g., reductions in pesticide use, reduced soil loss and better water quality through synergy with no-till cultivation practices, reduced crop loss from pests and weeds, increased flexibility and time for producers, reduced spoilage and mycotoxin contamination, and better nutritional value potential).
  • The scientific foundation of current environmental and food safety assessments for GE crops and foods and their accompanying technologies.
  • New developments in GE crop and food science and technology and the future opportunities and challenges those technologies may present, including research and development, regulatory, and ownership, examined through the lens of agricultural innovation and agronomic sustainability.
How were committee members chosen?

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued calls for nominations for committee members, seeking recognized experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds.   Each committee must include the full range of expertise and experience needed to address the study’s statement of task.   The overall composition of the committee is evaluated to make sure that points of view are reasonably balanced so that the committee can carry out its charge objectively and credibly. A provisional slate was posted for a 20-day comment period.  Once approved by the President of the National Academy of Sciences, all committee members were screened for conflict of interest. 

How did the Committee gather information before it assembled the report?

Study committees typically gather information through: 1) meetings that are open to the public and that are announced in advance through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine website; 2) the submission of information by outside parties; 3) reviews of the scientific literature; and 4) the investigations of the committee members and staff. In all cases, efforts are made to solicit input from individuals who have been directly involved in, or who have special knowledge of, the problem under consideration.

All committees deliberate in meetings closed to the public in order to develop draft findings and recommendations free from outside influences. The public is provided with brief summaries of these meetings that include the list of committee members present. All analyses and drafts of the report remain confidential.

To learn more about the public meetings of the committee that wrote Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, click here.

Who reviewed the report before it was published?

As a final check on the quality and objectivity of the study, all Academies reports whether products of studies, summaries of workshop proceedings, or other documents must undergo a rigorous, independent external review by experts whose comments are provided anonymously to the committee members. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recruit independent experts with a range of views and perspectives to review and comment on the draft report prepared by the committee.

The review process is structured to ensure that each report addresses its approved study charge and does not go beyond it, that the findings are supported by the scientific evidence and arguments presented, that the exposition and organization are effective, and that the report is impartial and objective.

Each committee must respond to, but need not agree with, reviewer comments in a detailed “response to review” that is examined by one or two independent report review “monitors” responsible for ensuring that the report review criteria have been satisfied. After all committee members and appropriate officials from the Academies have signed off on the final report, it is transmitted to the sponsor of the study and is released to the public.

To learn more about the reviewers of Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects, click here.

When was the study be completed?

The study was completed in May 2016.

When did the committee meet?

The committee meets throughout the study process. Committee meeting dates can be found here.

Are recordings of those meetings available?

All meetings in which the committee gathers information were open to the public and recorded. They are available here.

Can I see the comments and information submitted to the committee?

Written materials submitted to a study committee by external sources are listed in the project’s public access file and can be made available to the public upon request. Contact the Public Access Records Office (PARO) for a copy of the list and to obtain copies of the materials. Copies of materials are free to the press and government employees. Please send an email or call PARO to make a request or an inquiry.

Public Access Records Office
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 5th Street NW
Washington DC 20001
Tel: 202.334.3543
FAX: 202.334.2158
Email: paro@nas.edu

Normal business hours for PARO are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

Are the results of the study available to the public?

Yes.  An electronic version of the final report is available to download for free here.

How will the results of this study be used?

The final report is directed at policy makers, members of the public, and the scientific community and was delivered to the study sponsors and to various parts of the U.S. government, including the U.S. Congress and the executive branch. Other derivative products are designed to communicate the report’s findings to a lay audience.

Who sponsored this study?

The study was 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.

Have the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released other reports on GE crops?

Yes. The Academies have published previous reports on the topic of GE crops. 

Where can I get more information?

Inquiries may be directed to GEcrops@nas.edu.

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