The Brexit debate has reached fever pitch, so I am trying to ignore it and focus my attention on another impending EU decision: will New Breeding Techniques be regulated as GM?
These techniques include using enzymes to make small and precise changes in a genome, or using current GM techniques to transfer genes from different varieties of the same crop.
There are a few major issues if the EU does regulate NBTs in the same way as GMOs:
Other countries haven’t, which could make trade harder if we need specific (and extensive) approval to import crops developed using these techniques.
Some of the techniques make such small changes to the genome that it may be impossible for regulators to determine whether these were made through conventional techniques or New Breeding Techniques.
New Breeding Techniques are much cheaper than current GM techniques, so open up possibilities for smaller companies to compete with the biggies we love to hate.
I can also see major issues if we don’t regulate them as GMOs. We will be forced to ask ourselves the question of exactly why we have such stringent regulations on GMOs. It’s not the techniques themselves which are a concern, it’s what we do with them.
Take herbicide-tolerant crops for example. The issues, positive and negative, are about herbicides and weed control. So why should herbicide-tolerant crops made through different techniques be treated any differently by the regulators? We can ask the same questions about herbicide-tolerant crops made through conventional breeding.
Whether we decide we want more regulation for conventional crops or less regulation for GM (or both), perhaps it’s time for a re-think of exactly what we are achieving with our regulatory systems.
The EU decision has been repeatedly delayed, and we don’t have a date for when it will happen. Who knows, maybe the UK won’t even be in the EU by then.
On that note, I’ll leave you with an interesting article about NBTs and the EU decision.