Regulatory and Commercialization Issues for Genetically Engineered Specialty Crops

Category : 2015

April 1, 2015

Dr. Kent J. Bradford, University of California, Davis

Kent J. Bradford,

Dr. Bradford is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis. In 1999 he founded the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center and continues to serve as its director. Dr. Bradford’s research has spanned diverse areas of seed science from seed germination and conservation to mathematical modeling and molecular biology. He has published over 160 peer-reviewed research and extension articles and book chapters. His current interests are in the genetic and molecular mechanisms regulating seed germination, in mechanisms of seed deterioration and methods to extend seed longevity, and in mathematical models to describe seed germination and dormancy behavior.

Specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables, nuts, ornamentals and turf grasses, are important components of human diets and provide environmental amenities. Such crops represent ~40% of total agricultural receipts in the U.S., despite being cultivated on just 4% of the total cropped area. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a number of genetically engineered (GE) specialty crops were under development and the first commercialized GE food was a slower softening tomato. However, while GE field crops, such as soybean, maize, cotton and canola, have come to dominate production in countries where they have been released, only a few GE specialty crop varieties are currently marketed, and as a group, GE specialty crops have garnered limited market share. The exception is GE papaya engineered for resistance to papaya ringspot virus, which now represents 90% of Hawaii’s crop but is also being targeted by local initiatives to limit its cultivation. What is responsible for this disparity in the commercialization of GE field crops versus specialty crops? A review of the scientific and regulatory literature indicates that it is not due to a lack of demonstrated candidate traits. Instead, it appears that the costs of gaining regulatory approval, marketing restrictions (particularly internationally), lack of consumer acceptance, active political opposition, and other considerations are responsible. These issues and recent developments in GE specialty crops will be discussed.

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