Systematic reviews useful in informing GMO risk management

NEWS | 2015-07-30

Systematic reviews are ideal for summarising evidence in controversial topics. They may prove particularly useful in summing up conflicting, diverse evidence relating to the risks associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). EviEM Project Manager Neal Haddaway and colleagues discuss the use of systematic reviews in GMO risk assessment and risk management in a recent paper in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.

In the field of medicine, systematic reviews have been undertaken since the early 90s. The evidence-based healthcare revolution had then caused clinicians to question whether decisions were being based on the best possible evidence. In the years since, systematic reviews have become an industry standard in medicine. This good example has spread across disciplines, from psychology to social sciences, and into environmental conservation and management some 10 years ago.

The use and development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a highly controversial subject, with strong opinions and a plethora of evidence parried about on both sides of the divide. Many single studies on the safety of GMOs that are published (even in high quality journals) appear to strongly disagree with one another. National and international policies that specifically deal with regulation of GMOs must in many cases be drafted from scratch, and there is a clear need for reliable assessments of the existing evidence in this relatively novel subject area.

Recently, a group of researchers in Europe have been undertaking systematic reviews as part of a wider project assessing the risk of GMOs across a variety of aspects of human life (see the GRACE project website for more information). Their work demonstrates the suitability of systematic reviews to impartially collate and assess all of the available evidence on risk associated with GMOs.

Together with EviEM Project Manager Neal Haddaway, researchers from the GRACE project have written about their experiences and the advantages and applicability of systematic reviews in GMO research in a recent article in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. Several reviews dealing with the socioeconomic, environmental and health impacts of GMOs are now nearing completion, and these promise to generate a great deal of attention and interest.