On January 14, 2015, ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Center for Law, Science & Innovation hosted the nation’s brightest scientists, lawyers, academics, journalists and regulators to meet and discuss strategic reform of the U.S. regulatory system, public perception, scientific communication and development barriers affecting genetically modified plant and animal organisms (GMOs).   Among other things, the group discussed the effectiveness, safety and specificity of new technologies, the pitfalls of the current U.S. regulatory regime, public bias against GMOs and ways to get the message across to consumers that foods (including animals like the AquAdvantage salmon) derived from transgenic and novel breeding methods are as safe or safer than their conventional counterparts.

Three focus categories were distinguished: public, science and regulatory.  In terms of the public, the question was how to best deliver the message that foods derived from transgenic (and more novel techniques) are harmless and beneficial.  In terms of safety, society has been consuming genetically modified foods (via human intervention or sporadically in nature) for years, albeit using conventional, less precise and less favorable methods, so why even distinguish or tarnish modern breeding techniques?  After all, an apple is an apple — and, based on personal experience, a GM apple looks and tastes delicious!  Reduced stress on the environment, reduced food costs and combating food supply shortages and deficiencies, comprise the greatest benefits.  It was emphasized that public education and regulatory reform should focus on the end product — not the process — because the process should not define the ultimate characteristics of the product.  Further, communications about the science behind the technology should be made using terms and methods that are accessible and not intimidating to the public.   The meeting adjourned with a “next steps” agenda to put into effect the changes the group thought necessary to improve the current status of GMO plant and animal breeding.   As a side note, some very honest and constructive things were said in this open discussion about GMOs that are worth reiterating here:

  1. “Technology is not the issue.  The issue is the absence of a functional regulatory system.”
  2. “We need to tell a more engaging story.”
  3. “We need to distinguish between perception of risk and real risk.”
  4. “Where does anyone see “plant breeding” as a leading cause of death in the U.S?”
  5. “There should be a presumption against regulation of GMOs.”
  6. “We must educate the public.”
  7. “We are doing important things for the environment and human health and are being outshouted.”
  8. “We should strive for coexistence and engagement.”
  9. “We must emphasize the benefits to the public.  Consumers need to see a benefit.”
  10.  “It is about the politics of perception.”
  11. “Let’s talk about all the product success stories.”
  12. “Amplify the message of lost opportunities.”
  13. “It’s product, not process.”

Images from the GMO roundtable workshop:IMG_3262 IMG_3267 IMG_3268 photo(2) IMG_3269 IMG_3270  IMG_3271




About Yvonne Stevens

LL.M. - Biotechnology & Genomics, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University. LL.B - Dalhousie University, Schulich School of Law, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Cert. Criminal Justice & Criminology - The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, England. B.A. Hon. Philosophy, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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