Which fruits can be GMOs

Study: GMO plants are no worse than organic

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Genetic engineering, health and the environment
Dr. Olaf Zinke, agricultural today
on Thursday, May 2nd, 2019 - 11:39 am (comment now)

Danish researchers assume that the cultivation of genetically modified plants would comply with the principles of organic farming.

The EU's genetic engineering policy is strict and prevents new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from being approved for cultivation. Politics is based on arguments about the risk and the “unnaturalness” of GMO plants.

However, these arguments cannot justify the restrictive regulation, argue three researchers from Denmark in a recent study in the journal "Transgenic Research".

In her study, "Is Current EU Policy on GMOs Justified?" come to the conclusion that the use of genetically modified plants would even conform to the principles of organic farming.

GMO regulations hinder innovation

The EU rules on genetically modified organisms are so restrictive that it is almost impossible to obtain a permit to grow a GMO crop. And even if a GMO plant were approved by the EU, individual member states can prohibit cultivation.

This is untenable, argue the researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark. They believe that EU regulation stands in the way of an important agricultural innovation that could offer more sustainable and climate-friendly solutions. That is why strict rules cannot be justified.

Do not treat GMO crops differently from other products

"If we compare the pre-authorization procedure for GMO products with that of conventionally grown crops, it is clear that GMOs have to meet much stricter requirements - with regard to the supposed risks that GMO crops pose," says author Andreas Christiansen, der wrote the article together with Prof. Klemens Kappel and Prof. Martin Marchman Andersen.

"But the fact that a crop has been genetically engineered is not in itself a risk," he adds. "If there is a risk, it is associated with the introduction of a new variety with unfamiliar characteristics that could adversely affect the environment or human and animal health."

Christiansen says: "It is important to understand that the introduction of new varieties with different properties always poses a risk, whether they are genetically modified or not." The point, according to the authors, is: GMO crops should therefore not be different from similar ones Products are treated when the risks they pose to the environment and humans are comparable, which is why GMO crops in the US have been treated like other novel varieties for years.

When is a plant natural?

In a 2010 Eurobarometer survey, 70 percent of Europeans agreed that GMO foods are fundamentally unnatural. Unnaturalness is a common argument against GMO crops and GMO foods and is specifically mentioned in EU legislation. The Danish researchers are now trying to find out whether the kind of "unnaturalness" that GM crops allegedly have can justify bans and restrictive laws.

"Unnaturalness has many different meanings. While there are compelling arguments that GMO crops are in some ways more unnatural than non-GMOs, there are compelling arguments that many GMOs are as natural or unnatural as their conventional counterparts," says Andreas Christiansen.

"One of the arguments is that the more changes people have made to a plant, the more unnatural it is," says Christiansen. "This makes a GMO plant more unnatural in the sense that it has undergone at least one more change than a conventionally grown plant on which it is based."

CRISPR is gentler than conventional breeding

The conventionally bred plant is already much more "unnatural" than its wild ancestor and has mutated so often that in some cases it can be difficult to recognize a relationship between the two.

"In other words, it is really difficult to come up with a solid argument that the distinction between natural and unnatural can warrant stricter regulation of GMOs - even considering the best philosophical arguments for the value of nature and naturalness."

According to the researchers, many novel gene editing technologies are much more precise and cause fewer changes in plants than traditional breeding methods, in which plant seeds are washed with chemicals to induce mutations. Nevertheless, CRISPR / Cas is also included in the restrictive EU legislation, but chemically induced breeding is not.

Organic farming cannot justify GMO bans

Naturalness and organic farming are often seen as synonymous. The desire for organic farming was used as an argument for restricting the use of genetically modified plants. "But can the desire to promote organic farming justify a ban on genetic engineering, even if we accept that organic farming is superior because it is more sustainable or more environmentally friendly?" The researchers ask.

In any case, Andreas Christiansen says "that it is difficult to justify the restrictive GMO policy, since at least some GMOs are in line with these organic farming goals".

Genetically modified plants are environmentally friendly and have higher yields

In addition, GMO crops are at least as good as conventional agriculture in terms of sustainability. Therefore, it does not make sense to enforce stricter regulation of GMO plants compared to conventional agriculture. "But we also have to ask ourselves whether organic farming is always better than the alternatives," says Christiansen.

He believes, "There is one important way that GMO crops can be superior to organic farming: they can produce higher yields without placing more environmental stress, which can increase food production without increasing the amount of agricultural land. This is going to be extreme be important if we want to meet future food needs. "


The article was published: Are current EU policies on GMOs justified? by Andreas T. Christiansen, Martin Marchman Andersen and Klemens Kappelin of the journal Transgenic Research, April 2019, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 267–286.