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February 20th, 2018 / Nature, UK

Ever-more powerful genetic technologies, such as genome-editing endonucleases and marker-assisted breeding, continue to facilitate the development of genetically modified (GM) crops engineered with complex traits, such as, nutritional quality, climatic resilience and stacked disease-tolerance mechanisms. But in many developing countries, the uptake of these GM products is being jeopardized by the sluggish pace and inadequacy of regulatory oversight. This is a serious concern because developing countries stand to benefit most from the adoption of new varieties of staple GM crops, such as vitamin-enhanced rice and bananas or disease-resistant maize and cassava. Despite the availability of the formal risk analysis framework—which provides all the critical components of risk assessment, risk management and risk communication important for structured regulatory decision making on such products—we believe that policymakers do not always understand the underlying factors behind a risk analysis well enough to facilitate implementation of robust and realistic biosafety practices. Here, we argue for a rethink of the way in which capacity development and training is implemented in developing countries for biosafety programs assessing bioengineered products in developing countries.

As a group of international experts in biotechnology and biosafety, we have engaged in dialogs sponsored by bodies such as the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (Rome), and have recently drawn up a series of observations and guidelines in an effort to promote constructive debate aimed at resolving this important impasse that is hindering the uptake of improved crops in many parts of the world. Read more