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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

New GM techniques

A recent victory for environmental campaigners saw the European Court of Justice rule on 25 July 2018 that new genetic engineering techniques count as GM and must be properly regulated.

Why does it matter?

CGI snapshot of a DNA double helixEuropean GM regulations mean that GM food and crops are risk-assessed, traceable and labelled. However, a large number of new genetic engineering techniques have been developed since the EU’s GM regulations were developed.

Many different media-friendly names are given to these new techniques, including “new plant breeding techniques”, “advanced breeding techniques” and “bioengineered”. But it isn’t the name that matters, it’s the fact that all of this re-branding is an attempt to avoid proper regulation.

Proponents claim that techniques such as CRISPR and other forms of genome editing  are different because they are more precise and don’t usually add genes from other species. However, they do involve changing the genome in the lab in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

These new genetic engineering techniques have no history of safe use and must be subject to proper regulation because:

They are not as precise as we are led to believe and precision is not the same as predictability. All of these techniques can give rise to unexpected effects.

Any problems that do occur will be incredibly difficult to put right as genetic pollution cannot be “mopped up”.
Many of these techniques are so new that very little is known about how they work and what could go wrong. News stories are now cropping up regularly highlighting new issues with CRISPR to name just one.
Genetic engineering techniques are often developed by start-ups and universities but the six largest biotech companies already own more than 70% of the patents and licenses associated with ‘GM 2.0’.

All genetic engineering techniques must be subject to proper regulation and traceability, whatever name you give them.

A closeup of a green DNA double helix that is sweating droplets of black oil