September 4, 2022

Written by Erica Jones, recipient of the Global Change Center’s 2022 Science Policy Fellowship

Much of my undergraduate experience has been dedicated to research and lab work. I found that being a Biology major meant that I needed to gain as much experience as possible to be the most well-rounded candidate for graduate school. I sought out the GCC Science Policy Fellowship opportunity because I felt that most of the knowledge I was missing was in policy. Through policy, certain biological products are approved for market, and I realized my aspirations to work at NASA and grow plants in space might be a tricky policy issue. I didn’t know how practical that dream was from a policy standpoint and that the answer was much more complex than I expected. 

Over the summer, I interned at CropLife International (CLI), an advocacy organization that works with the leading members of innovative plant policy and crop production. I worked closely with members from Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, and Corteva, the most significant technological and agricultural company leaders in the world. In collaboration with these companies, CLI helps farmers access better crop technologies that help grow more nutritious food on less land. 

Erica Jones, standing in front of the CropLife America and International entrance
Erica Jones, standing in front of the CropLife America and International entrance.

I was welcomed with open arms and enthusiasm, and found the staff extremely knowledgeable and kind, supporting my growth in policy comprehension and networking skills. I was supplied with personal business cards for distribution at networking events and I made good friends and resources with other crop regulatory companies, such as the USDA.

There are multiple levels that CLI works on to ensure feeding the world. Over the summer, I worked under the Plant Biotechnology Regulatory division, focusing on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their international trade and production approvals. I learned that most GMOs are for quality of life improvements, such as drought tolerance and pesticide resistance. This means that farmers will have a higher success rate of growth and yield in comparison to organic crops.

GMO regulation is a trickier process than I realized, and it takes far longer than I expected for global approval and trade. For an individual country to accept a GMO as a trade product, they perform over sixteen years of data and research. Governments tend to require their own verifications, so all countries end up compiling their studies and analysis for the same GMO. Most of my time at CLI focused on updating large data sets involving various countries and their regulatory policies. I created a PowerPoint we named “Approval Redundancies,” in which I used the programming language R to calculate all multiple approvals across all countries for the same GMO product. The problem with approval redundancies is that it stalls food trade, leading to countries losing economic value or the means to feed the population.

"Looking back over the last three months, I can confidently say that I learned a lot about science policy and honed skills that will stay with me throughout my future career. Not only did I learn about the complex world of GMO regulation, but much of my time was focused on refining skills in R, which will be a useful skill in biological research. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time at CLI and will carry the knowledge I’ve learned throughout the summer with me forever."
Erica Jones, standing in the doorway of her office at CropLife International
Erica Jones, standing in the doorway of her office at CropLife International.