Seed Biotechnology Center
Seed Biotechnology Center
Seed Biotechnology Center
University of California
Seed Biotechnology Center

UC Davis study documents regulatory bottleneck in biotech specialty crop commercialization

Davis, California, USA
October 13, 2010

Specialty crops are important components of human diets and nutrition. While grown on just 4% of the total cropped area, specialty crops represented about 40% of the $140 billion in total agricultural receipts in the United States in 2007.

New research from UC Davis Professor and Seed Biotechnology Center Director Kent Bradford and Jamie (Miller) Shattuck examining the biotech research and development pipeline in these crops has documented a large body of scientific reports and field trials with the potential to benefit growers and consumers. This study, published in the October issue of Nature Biotechnology, identified proof of concept transgenic work conducted on 78 specialty crops utilizing over 250 traits. These traits included many that would directly benefit consumers and others that would primarily benefit producers and only indirectly benefit consumers through reduced agricultural inputs, higher productivity, lower cost or reduced environmental impacts. The former traits included modifications in oil, sugar and starch content, protein quality and amino acid composition, vitamin content and nutritional quality, flavor and postharvest quality as well as reduced allergenicity. The latter traits included tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses, insect and nematode resistance, herbicide tolerance, nitrogen acquisition and yield. These data demonstrate that there is a broad global research pipeline for GM specialty crops using traits that would be beneficial to both producers and consumers.

However, unlike agronomic crops, few genetically engineered traits have been commercialized in specialty crops. In fact, since 2000, no new regulatory approvals have been completed on any specialty crops. Given the large amount of research being conducted in both the public and private sectors, these data illustrate a significant bottleneck between the research sector and their movement into commercial production. While a number of factors could contribute to this situation, the evidence points to the high cost and uncertainty of receiving regulatory approval as a primary cause. Commercialization of biotech specialty crops may depend upon a reexamination of the balance between potential risks versus foregone societal benefits and consequent adjustments in regulatory requirements.

The complete article can be found at: http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v28/n10/full/nbt1010-1012.html.

The authors would like to acknowledge the Specialty Crop Regulatory Assistance program for their support of this project.

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