published May 8, 2014

Calestous Juma Offers Policy Solutions to Regulations on Genetically Modified Agriculture

Christine Marie DeCarlo, NCSCE

Pollutants from pesticides seeping into soil and contaminating waterways, deforestation and the subsequent rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, loss of natural habitats, climate change—these are just a few environmental drawbacks associated with agriculture. Yet, our growing global population adds to pressure to feed more and more people.

On Monday, April 28, Calestous Juma, professor of the practice of international development at the Harvard Kennedy School, gave a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology titled "Governing Synthetic Biology: Technological Controversies and Public Policy" Our SENCER Visiting Scholar, Natalie Kuldell from MIT, attended the lecture and called our attention to it. (Dr. Kuldell has written a SENCER Backgrounder on synthetic biology that we expect to publish this Summer.)

Professor Juma's talk outlined the many ways synthetic biology could be used to ease agriculture's environmental strain. He explained that genetically modified (GM) crops have been shown to save acreage without sacrificing yield, to decrease the use of pesticides, and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to environmental benefits, GM crops have also been linked to economic gains and greater food security.

However, the safety of GM crops remains hotly contested in the public sphere. Even though scientific evidence has shown that these crops pose no significant hazard, they still spur ethical, regulatory, and societal concerns. Juma's lecture examined the public debates and controversies surrounding GM crops, and suggested policy options that would allow farmers to adopt the technology. Juma will further explore this theme and others related to synthetic biology opposition in his upcoming book, Innovation and Its Enemies: Resistance to New Technology.

For more information about Juma's talk, you can connect with him on Twitter @calestous.