Genetically modified decisions
27.10.2015 - A little bird tells me that the European Commission is moving towards a decision on whether various technologies involved in development of novel plant strains will fall under the terms of current GMO legislation.
Boring, I hear you groan, waiting for the usual headlines of new monster foods and other Triffid-like crops but this is an interesting case and will have consequences for countries where GMO crops are banned (are you listening, Scotland?)
GM legislation is strongly based on technologies and processes that define the resulting organism, with the requirement that the resulting plants can be identified as modified at molecular level. The technologies under question now include cisgenesis, to give one example, where DNA is introduced from the same species. This, and other methods under consideration, challenge GM legislation as it cannot exclude the possibility that such mutations may naturally occur and the methods used do not allow the identification of a modified plant, as there is no foreign DNA and no markers by which to determine modification.
These are not funky new techniques, they have been around for a number of years, but now they are coming to fruition, with novel patents and companies driving the need for legislative clarification. The decision either way from the EC will have research and economic consequences for European governments. If such methods are exempted from GM legislation (and there seem to be national level arguments for this floating about) – it will allow EU countries to stick to existing bans whilst continuing the development of crop breeding research and industry. If they are included in the legislation, they narrow the playing field for European research within plant-based agriculture as it removes additional techniques for use in the lab. With research grants closely linked to exploitation potential, who is going to fund a project where the results can only bring economic benefit to another country?
And this is where I get back to Scotland, which recently announced its intention to ban the production of GM crops. Scotland has a huge economic reliance on agriculture and a long history of excellent agricultural research and commercial production. The ban on GM crop production will already impact Scotland’s research base and reputation. If the techniques under review by the EC are also included in GM legislation, this deals a double whammy to the sector, removing a further set of skills and economic tools from one of the pillars of the Scottish economy. What started as a rather pointless and populist policy statement may have economic consequences far beyond an easy headline. It also demonstrates the importance of careful consideration around seemingly small changes to EC legislation that could rapidly force the evolution of science at the national level, a genetic modification that will more likely spawn a shrimp than a monster.http://www.european-biotechnology-news.com/people/heard-in-brussels/2015/genetically-modified-decisions.html