New report from organization backed by Big Ag highlights problems with international GMO approval periods

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A central Illinois farmer holds a handful of genetically engineered soybean seeds.

Photo by Darrell Hoemann/

A central Illinois farmer holds a handful of genetically engineered soybean seeds.

An Iowa-based research organization — heavily supported by Big Ag interests —published a new report Thursday highlighting problems related to the international approval of genetically engineered crops, or GMOs.

In general, companies need to secure government approval for new GMO products in any country where those products might later appear. In the United States, the regulatory process is carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

But approval processes in other countries can be very different, and those differences often cause lengthy delays for when a new GMO crop hits the open market.

Last week’s report by the Council for Agriculture Science and Technology — or CAST — found that regulatory review periods for new GMO crops have increased in key markets such as the European Union and China in recent years.

And, as a result, billions of dollars’ worth of agriculture trade goods are put at risk, according to the report.

In 2013, China blocked U.S. corn imports after Chinese regulators detected an unapproved corn GMO produced by Syngenta in some of its incoming shipments. The trade disruption cost the U.S. corn industry up to an estimated $3 billion, according to the National Grain and Feed Association.

CAST’s report found that “zero tolerance” policies for incidents when unapproved GMOs appear in low levels can lead to more negative trade distortions in the future.

“How the world’s regulatory systems operate in the area of biotech crops is critically important to producers and consumers,” said Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, a University of Missouri professor and one of the report’s leading authors, in a statement.

CAST is a nonprofit organization established in 1972 that reviews and produces scientific research related to food and agriculture. Its self-described mission is to provide credible, balanced and science-based information to policymakers and the general public.

But information available online shows that CAST is backed by some of the world’s top agribusiness companies.

DuPont, Syngenta and GROWMARK are listed as grant providers or sponsors, while top members include Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto and Tyson Foods. Other members include the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the National Corn Growers Association.

Public perception of GMOs is often polarized, and a new investigation even put their effectiveness up for debate.

Still, Monsanto and other seed companies often promote GMO crops as key tools for feeding an increasing global population that by 2050 will likely require about double the amount of food that’s currently produced.

CAST’s report on approval times stated that as long as current delays and discrepancies in approval times persist, then “agricultural biotechnology will be prevented from delivering the full range of promised benefits of improved standard of living and food security.”

Read the full report: “The Impact of Asynchronous Approvals for Biotech Crops on Agricultural Sustainability, Trade, and Innovation”

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