CRH management calls for a change in legislation on genetically modified plants
Scientists at the Center of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research (CRH) have called on Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and other politicians to push for a change in European legislation on genetically modified plants in line with current developments in scientific knowledge. They are hereby responding to a decision of the European Court of Justice that organisms acquired by modern methods for targeted genome editing, such as CRISPR, are subject to the same strict regulation as genetically modified organisms.
According to CRH Director Ivo Frébort, as well as the Scientific director and National Award Česká hlava 2018 laureate Jaroslav Doležel, the verdict can irretrievably harm European agriculture as well as the environment and cause outflow of innovation from the EU.
“It is not possible to obtain crop varieties adapted to climate change, resistant to diseases and pests, with higher yields and improved quality without application of new breeding techniques. Without such varieties, it is not possible to provide enough food for the growing world population in the future without the environment being severely damaged by pesticides and high doses of artificial fertilizers, resulting in a threat to the health of our planet’s inhabitants,” said plant geneticist Doležel.
According to researchers, organisms obtained by targeted genome editing do not contain foreign genes. They should therefore be subject to the same legislative rules as plants obtained by traditional breeding methods. CRISPR method is based on the fact that researchers are able to “shut down” a gene in the genome, which carries a specific property. This makes it possible to obtain plants with desired properties, such as resistance to drought or disease. It is precisely this research, especially for economically important crops, that Olomouc experts deal with.
Scientists stress that all domesticated crops have been infused by mutations in the genome of placid ancestors. Since about the middle of the last century, mutations have been induced artificially by the action of chemicals and radioactive radiation. These procedures cause hundreds or thousands of accidental damage to genetic information with unknown effects. On the contrary, when using the CRISPR method, all changes are targeted and controlled. In spite of this, the European Court of Justice has imposed strict regulation on methods of targeted regulation of genome. “It makes no sense from a scientific point of view because crops with small modifications of the genome are just as safe as crops obtained by classical mutagenesis and traditional breeding methods. The consequences of this decision will be far-reaching. Innovative agricultural research will move out of Europe, and it will be difficult to catch up with this delay in the future. Introduction of new varieties of agricultural crops will be more difficult, which will reduce the competitiveness of European agriculture, and the introduction of sustainable farming methods will be slowed down,” said another signatory of the letter and expert in polant biotechnology Ivo Frébort.
Many world´s leading experts in science are protesting against the decision of the European Court of Justice. “We believe that it is important to draw attention of our political representation to this problem and to ask them to disagree with the decision of the European Court of Justice. We ask them to support the change of legislation on new, innovative breeding techniques and changes to legislation on GMOs, which is obsolete and does not correspond to current scientific knowledge,” agree both scientists.
The letter was addressed not only to the Prime Minister but also to the Ministers of Agriculture and the Environment – Miroslav Toman and Richard Brabec. They also offered to provide additional information to the politicians. CRH is a scientific center that brings together scientific teams of Palacký University Olomouc and Olomouc worksites of the Institute of Experimental Botany of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Crop Research Institute. Researchers are engaged in plant research and plant biotechnology development.
TEXT: Martina Šaradínová, CRH