European Scientists Unite To Safeguard Precision Breeding For Sustainable Agriculture

(October 24, 2018) - Leading scientists representing more than 85 European plant and life sciences research centers and institutes have endorsed a position paper that urgently calls upon European policy makers to safeguard innovation in plant science and agriculture.

The scientists are deeply concerned about a recent European Court of Justice ruling around modern genome editing techniques that could lead to a de facto ban of innovative crop breeding. As a result, European farmers might be deprived of a new generation of more climate resilient and more nutritious crop varieties that are urgently needed to respond to current ecological and societal challenges. Together with the countless statements of European research institutes that appeared online over the last months, this statement is proof of a solid consensus among the academic life science research community in Europe on the negative consequences of this ruling.

Crop improvement has been done for centuries by means of conventional plant breeding techniques, all leading to genetic changes in the plant. Today, innovative techniques represent a next step in plant breeding and allow to make the desired genetic changes with very high efficiency and precision.

Innovative plant breeding methods necessary to meet the challenges of climate change

Agriculture feeds the world. On that account, the breakdown of food systems is one of the biggest risks of climate change. Crops that are more tolerant to rapidly changing and harsher environments, such as the recent period of extreme drought in parts of Europe, will be crucial for the success of tomorrow’s food production approaches.

One of the latest breakthroughs in this field is precision breeding, an innovative crop breeding method based on genome editing. Precision breeding can contribute to tailoring crops to a specific area, considering the environmental factors of a certain region. Precision breeding is also used to generate crops with improved nutritional composition, improved digestibility, lower content of anti-nutritional components, reduced allergenicity or requiring less input, which has a direct benefit for our environment.

European plant research institutes jointly call for action.

The implications of a very restrictive regulation of innovative plant breeding methods are far-reaching. European agricultural innovation based on precision breeding will come to a halt because of the high threshold that this EU legislation presents. This will hinder progress in sustainable agriculture and will give a competitive disadvantage to plant breeding industries in Europe. The impacts on our society and economy will be enormous.

To safeguard innovation in agriculture in Europe, the signatories of the position paper ask for a new regulatory framework that evaluates new crop varieties based on science.

Dirk Inzé, Scientific Director at VIB and one of the initiators of the position paper, says, “The support we received for this initiative from plant scientists all over Europe has been overwhelming from the start. To me, it clearly illustrates the current dichotomy in Europe: as European leaders in the field of plant sciences we are committed to bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to agriculture, but we are hindered by an outdated regulatory framework that is not in line with recent scientific evidence. With this mission statement we hope to promote evidence-informed policymaking in the EU, which is of crucial importance to us all. “

  • Support this position paper and add your name to the list of signatories here.
  • Read here the position paper on the ECJ ruling on CRISPR

John Innes Centre Joins European Scientists To Safeguard Precision Breeding For Agriculture

Norwich, UK (October 24, 2018) - Leading researchers representing more than 75 European plant and life sciences research centres and institutes have endorsed a position paper that urgently calls upon European policy makers to safeguard gene-editing technologies in plant science and agriculture.

The scientists, including those from the John Innes Centre, are deeply concerned about a recent European Court of Justice ruling concerning modern genome editing techniques that could lead to a de facto ban of innovative crop breeding.

The position paper argues the European farmers may be deprived of a new generation of more climate resilient and nutritious crop varieties that are urgently needed to respond to current ecological and societal challenges.

The joint document follows an outpouring of concerned statements of European research institutes over the recent months following the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruling under which genome edited organisms must comply with strict EU Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) legislation.

Today’s position paper is evidence of a solid consensus among the academic life science research community in Europe on the negative consequences of the ruling.

Dirk Inzé, Scientific Director at VIB-University of Gent Centre for Plant Systems Biology and one of the initiators of the position paper said: “The support for this initiative from plant scientists all over Europe has been overwhelming. It clearly illustrates the current dichotomy in Europe: as European leaders in the field of plant sciences we are committed to bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to agriculture, but we are hindered by an outdated regulatory framework that is not in line with recent scientific evidence. With this mission statement we hope to promote evidence-informed policymaking in the EU, which is of crucial importance to us all.”

The mission statement makes the case that crop improvement has been done for centuries by means of conventional plant breeding techniques, all leading to genetic changes in the plant. Today’s innovative techniques represent a next step in plant breeding and enable desired genetic changes with very high efficiency and precision.

One of the latest breakthroughs in this field is precision breeding, an innovative crop breeding method based on genome editing. Precision breeding can contribute to tailoring crops to a specific area, considering the environmental factors of a certain region.

Precision breeding is also used to generate crops with improved nutritional composition, improved digestibility, lower content of anti-nutritional components, reduced allergenicity or requiring less input, which has a direct benefit for our environment.

The implications of a very restrictive regulation of innovative plant breeding methods are far-reaching. European agricultural innovation based on precision breeding will come to a halt because of the high threshold that this EU legislation presents. This will hinder progress in sustainable agriculture and will give a competitive disadvantage to plant breeding industries in Europe. The impacts on our society and economy will be enormous.

To safeguard innovation in agriculture in Europe, the signatories of the position paper ask for a new regulatory framework that evaluates new crop varieties based on science.

Following the European Court decision in July, Professor Wendy Harwood of the John Innes Centre, warned that the decision: “could have major negative impacts on our ability to respond rapidly to the challenges of providing sufficient, nutritious food under increasingly challenging conditions.”

Professor Nick Talbot, director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich Research Park described the ruling as: “A retrograde step that is not based on any scientific evidence.”


Scientists United To Safeguard Precision Breeding SCIENTISTS UNITE TO SAFEGUARD PRECISION BREEDING

Appeal comes in the wake of the European Court of Justice’s ruling that regulation of the technology should fall under existing GMO laws.

(October 24, 2018) - Scientists from more than 85 European research institutions, including Rothamsted Research, have called upon European policy makers to use the most up to date scientific evidence when evaluating the development of new crop varieties.

The signatories, including Rothamsted Research Director, Professor Achim Dobermann, argue that the relevant legislation is too stringent and does not reflect the current state of our scientific knowledge.

“Organisms created through precision breeding should fall under the same laws that apply to classically bred plant varieties,” he said.

When humans first domesticated plants for food, the only way they could get beneficial traits was to wait for unpredictable natural mutations to arise and then breed from that plant – so called artificial selection.

In modern times, chemicals or radiation have been applied to seeds to speed up this process of mutation, although such methods are just as likely to produce undesirable results as welcome ones.

Precision breeding uses recently developed, targeted techniques to edit small sections of the existing DNA that underlie very specific plant traits such as drought or disease tolerance.

Unlike GM, it does not involve the transfer of genetic material from other species.

Professor Dobermann added: “Over the course of the coming generation, the world’s population will increase by twenty five percent. Add in political uncertainty, climate change, less land available for farming, and declining natural resources, and it will be a huge challenge to feed these two billion extra mouths.

“Precision breeding will open the door to the development of higher yielding, more nutritious, more resilient crops.

“Science needs every possible tool in its toolbox if it is to create specially tailored crops that produce more food from less land and do so in the face of increased drought and diseases. Too stringent European regulations will essentially halt scientific progress in this area.

“That’s why I have endorsed this appeal to safeguard innovative plant breeding techniques from outdated and uninformed decision making.”

  • Support this position paper and add your name to the list of signatories here.
  • Read here the position paper on the ECJ ruling on CRISPR