One morning a few weeks ago, I received an email from the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (NRC), announcing the makeup of a provisionalcommittee
of experts that has been tasked with carrying out a comprehensive new study of genetically engineered (GE) crops. This study is supposed to assess the history of GE crops around the world, the diverse experiences of farmers in different countries and a wide range of "purported" negative and positive impacts of GE seeds and their associated technologies (for example, pesticides).
Done right, this could be an illuminating investigation, right? But as I looked over the bios provided on NRC's webpage, I quickly realized that the Council appears to have a pretty poor idea of how to carry out such a challenging, complex and multifaceted study. In fact, this week 67 scientists and researchers publicly rebuked
the NRC for failing, right at the outset, to put together a slate of experts equipped for the task.
As currently configured, NRC's panel has nowhere near the scholarly or real-world expertise required to produce a credible product.
Now, remember, this panel is supposed to assess the history and impacts of GE crops on real people: on farmers and rural communities in countries around the world. I looked again over the list of experts. (Maybe I missed something.) Where were the rural and development sociologists, political economists, political ecologists, anthropologists, geographers, international development experts with real-world experience in community-based participatory research
? Where were the public-health professionals, with expertise in occupational, environmental and community health? Where were those trained in multidisciplinary research and complex systems science? Where were those who understand and study agriculture as a complex, continually evolving social/cultural/ecological system?
I also noticed the paucity of women (just four!) -- and the glaring absence of a single farmer on a panel tasked with assessing the experiences of... farmers!