Genetic Engineering in Plants and the “New Breeding Techniques (NBTs)”

Inherent risks and the need to regulate

(10 pages)
December, 2015

Dr. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher

Over the last 5-10 years there have been rapid developments in genetic engineering techniques (genetic modification). Along with these has come the increasing ability to make deeper and more complex changes in the genetic makeup and metabolic pathways of living organisms. This has led to the emergence of two new fields of genetic engineering that overlap with each other: synthetic biology and the so-called New Breeding Techniques (NBTs). As regards NBTs, it is of concern that many efforts seem designed primarily to avoid having to go through the regulatory process for GMOs, whilst choosing names that make it difficult for the public to see that genetic engineering (genetic modification) is being used. This goes alongside efforts to weaken the precautionary principle, which is there to guard against adopting technologies that are considered likely to bring negative impacts on human and/or environmental health in the future. Currently there is a list of 7 “new” genetic engineering techniques (NBTs) before the European Commission, which is deciding whether or not the products of these techniques, when applied to plants, are covered by the EU GMO laws. These techniques each bring their own set of risks and uncertainties. Whilst many of these are the same as with older GM techniques there are also serious additional concerns. The briefing concludes that there is a scientific case for classifying all these techniques as GM and regulating their use with as much rigour as previous and current GM techniques.