We describe two contrasting methods of comparative environmental risk assessment for genetically modified (GM) crops. Both are science-based, in the sense that they use science to help make decisions, but they differ in the relationship between science and policy. Policy-led comparative risk assessment begins by defining what would be regarded as unacceptable changes when the use a particular GM crop replaces an accepted use of another crop. Hypotheses that these changes will not occur are tested using existing or new data, and corroboration or falsification of the hypotheses is used to inform decision-making. Science-led comparative risk assessment, on the other hand, tends to test null hypotheses of no difference between a GM crop and a comparator. The variables that are compared may have little or no relevance to any previously stated policy objective and hence decision-making tends to be ad hoc in response to possibly spurious statistical significance. We argue that policy-led comparative risk assessment is the far more effective method. With this in mind, we caution that phenotypic profiling of GM crops, particularly with omics methods, is potentially detrimental to risk assessment.
Raybould, A., & Macdonald, P. (2018). Policy-led comparative environmental risk assessment of genetically modified crops: Testing for increased risk rather than profiling phenotypes leads to predictable and transparent decision-making. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, 6(APR). https://doi.org/10.3389/fbioe.2018.00043