EU NGOs: new plant breeding techniques must be included in GMO regulations

March 13, 2017 by Pat Thomas

New plant breeding

Unless lawmakers act now, and act responsibly, new genetic engineering techniques will be allowed to fall outside of existing legislation – with health and safety consequences for people and the environment

To highlight the problem, and provoke action, NGOs from across Europe, including Beyond GM, have come together in joint position statement, to insist that EU legislation must be fully applied to the so-called ‘New Plant Breeding Techniques’.

This is a long-running battle for NGOs, indeed this most recent document is a revision of one first published in March 2016. It is vital to keep the pressure up, however, because many legislators simply fail to realise that new GM techniques and new types of organisms are being introduced faster than most authorities can make sense of them. These techniques include:

  • Gene-editing techniques including zinc finger nucleases (ZFN), TALENs, CRISPR/Cas,
    meganucleases and oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM)
  • Cisgenesis and intragenesis
  • RNA-dependent DNA methylation (RdDM)
  • Agro-infiltration
  • Reverse breeding
  • Grafting on a GMO rootstock

Many of the techniques can be used in combination with each other, or several times over, in order to achieve the intended effect. Gene-editing, cisgenesis and intragenesis can be applied to both plants and animals, including farm animals, insects and fish for open release into the environment. Gene-editing may also be used to create ‘gene drive’ mechanisms with the aim to spread traits such as disease resistance into wild populations of plants or animals. Gene-editing in humans, which is not covered by the EU GMO regulations, is also possible and the subject of much debate.

No safety assessments without regulation

The pace of development and general confusion around these techniques works in favour of biotechnology companies, which argue that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that have been produced through a range of new techniques should be excluded from the European Union’s GMO regulations. These companies want to apply these techniques to engineer plants and animals for use in industrial food, biomass and biofuel production. This would mean that there is no risk assessment, labelling and monitoring of
GM organisms produced by the new techniques and their derived products.

As we have written in the past, the new GMOs present a real risk to the environment and human health. Notions that they are more precise are little more than wishful thinking.

Legal analysis concludes that they are covered by EU GMO law. If they were to escape EU regulations, any potential negative effects on food, feed or environmental safety would go unchecked. European consumers, farmers and breeders would have no way to avoid GMOs.

The Commission and national governments of EU countries should leave no doubt that all products of genetic engineering are subject to EU GMO law which requires rigorous risk assessment, detectability and labelling.

We urge everyone to stay informed; download and read the Joint Position Statement.