Custers notes that European regulations for genetically modified organisms (GMO) do not distinguish between various types of changes in DNA material, even if this involves a wide variety of techniques: from simple to complex changes, from deleting or changing genes, to replacements or additions. No distinction is made between modifications in which ‘foreign’ DNA (of a different species) is introduced and modifications in which this is not the case.
European regulations mainly look at the technique used for modifications, not the way in which they are applied. For example, obtaining new plant characteristics through traditional plant breeding (cross-breeding) is not bound by the strict GMO rules, but the use of CRISPR to obtain the same characteristics is. CRISPR is a precision technique that only makes necessary changes in the plant DNA, while traditional ‘trial & error’ breeding techniques also result in random, unpredictable and sometimes unwanted other changes in the DNA.
“That’s an important difference,” said Custers during his presentation at EFIB. “Elsewhere in the world, that threshold is only there for types of changes that go beyond what can occur spontaneously in nature or can be achieved with conventional crops.”
Genome engineering plays a major role in making European food production more sustainable, because it contributes to higher yields, less use of fertilizers and pesticides, better quality, fewer residual flows, climate resistance and better resistance to pests. “We have been trying to achieve this through cultivation for a long time, but with CRISPR techniques we can achieve more speed and precision. Let’s use the best resources we have and leave out political decisions about regulations.”
VIB is one of the few parties in Europe that conducts field trials with GMO plants.
EFIB is the leading European conference for industrial biotechnology. The conference is currently taking place digitally from 5 to 9 October 2020. For more information, see the EFIB website.
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