Will the European Commission study bring about a change in understanding of NGT?

Illustrational photo: 123rf
Tuesday 4 May 2021, 8:00 – Text: Martina Šaradínová

The European Commission has published a groundbreaking study on new genome editing techniques (NGT). Among other things, it states that the use of new plant mutagenesis and cisgenesis techniques in NGT is as safe as traditional breeding techniques and that it is therefore appropriate to adapt existing European legislation to the latest scientific knowledge and technological progress.

The study (questions and answers at https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/modern_biotech/q-and-a) also states that NGTs have a huge potential to contribute to sustainable agriculture and food industry and are in accordance with the objectives of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy. According to experts it could provide a new perspective on the issue.

“It’s very promising news that could bring a big breakthrough. Our efforts within the European Federation of Biotechnology and the European Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) seem to have helped. Together with a number of European scientists, we have repeatedly criticized the ruling of the European Court of Justice of July 25, 2018, which interprets the current legislation in a way that all organisms prepared by modern genome editing procedures fall into the GMO category and are therefore subject to very strict regulation. This has negative effects not only on science, but especially on the economy and environment in EU countries and it needs to be changed,” said Ivo Frébort from the Czech Institute of Research and Advanced Technologies (CATRIN) Palacký University Olomouc, who as a vice president of EFB attended a meeting in Brussels last year, and together with Carsten Hjort from the Danish biotechnology company Novozymes, participated in the preparation of an expert opinion in a questionnaire survey commissioned by the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety – DG SANTE. He has also drawn attention to the negative consequences of existing legislation on GMOs in a recently published article in the EFB Bioeconomy Journal

According to scientists, genome modifications leading to changes that may also occur spontaneously in nature and that do not introduce foreign DNA should be excluded from GMO legislation. The current situation significantly reduces the competitiveness of EU countries and hinders them in breeding of economically important crops with the necessary characteristics, such as higher resistance to drought or pests and diseases. “In my opinion, the European Commission is beginning to realize that meeting the agricultural and food objectives supported by the new Horizon Europe framework program will not be possible without the use of the latest technologies. Non-European countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, some countries in South America and Asia have already amended or are adjusting their legislation, and the United Kingdom has taken this path after Brexit. I look forward to further cooperation with DG SANTE, we have another meeting next week, this time through a video conference,” added Frébort.

Targeted genome editing is considered by researchers to be a suitable tool for breeding crops with sufficient yields that will be resistant to climate change, be less dependent on pesticides and fertilizers, and can have health benefits for consumers. The benefits of targeted genome editing are already described in the literature. New breeding technologies have contributed, for example, to the development of powdery mildew-resistant wheat, vine resistant to fungal diseases, breeding of low-gluten or high-fiber wheat and many other applications.

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