"The net effect of this stringent regulatory environment is that many incremental advances in crop research are not being pursued, and the field tests needed to determine value to farmers and society are often avoided," Strauss said. "It's too expensive, risky and complex, especially for small companies and academic researchers."
A better approach, Strauss said in the report, would be for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to make some initial evaluations of the type of changes being done with genetic engineering and the nature of the genes being changed. They could then inject a little common sense and much less regulation into the process if it becomes clear that a project has a similar level of environmental safety to conventional crop breeding. After review, he said, some types of field tests should be exempt from further regulation.
Another effect of the current regulatory environment, Strauss argues, is to largely force out of business all but the largest and most powerful companies that can afford the costly field tests.
"Small companies and academic scientists have much they could contribute to this field, and the cumulative public benefits could be enormous, but the costs are often just too overwhelming for them," Strauss said. "We need to democratize this industry, and we need to start delivering to the public the benefits of biotechnology on a wider basis."
Strauss is an international leader in the use of genetic engineering in trees and has taught classes on biotechnology issues in society.