GM crops tailored to EU taste

17th Feb 2012

Transgenesis is the genetic engineering approach that consists of the modification of a recipient plant by introducing genetic elements isolated from a non-plant organism or from sexually incompatible plants. The use of transgenesis to modify crops is advantageous because the establishment of new traits is targeted, the genes introduced had been prove previously to be improving varieties, and it is faster than traditional breeding. Although the advantages that GM crops offer compared to traditional breeding, GM crops are still a black sheep of biotechnology in Europe. One of the major reasons why citizens do not accept GM crops is because a transgene usually derives from alien species such as, virus, bacteria, non-crossable plants or synthetic genes.

The publication of Eurobaromer on life sciences 2010 (Nat Biotech. 2011 Vol29, 113) hints to a new era in the relations between science and society. This survey is based on 32 EU members. Although, they find that in no country is a majority of supporters for GM crops, showing that public concerns about safety are paramount, followed by the absence of benefits and a worry that it is unnatural. The battle of GM crops in Europe is still not lost. When they ask about the use of intragenesis or cisgenesis, GM crops produced by adding only genes from the same species or from plants that are crossable by conventional breeding, evoked a complete different reaction. In all EU countries, our example of the cisgenic production of apples receives higher support (55%) than transgenic apples (33%), with the former attracting majority support in 24 countries. Cisgenics might be seen as an example of the so-called 'second generation' of GM crops. Here, the benefits of GM apple breeding are achieved with a technological process, a consumer benefit is offered (reduced pesticide use and pesticide residues), and as such the process achieves better ratings in terms of benefits, safety, environment and 'naturalness', and double the support, compared to GM food. Indeed, the possibility of more acceptable solutions may harden opposition to traditional GM products.

It seems that EU citizens’ acceptance of second generation of GM crops guarantees its implementation, but what about the regulation of this new generation of GMOs? On July 2011 Nature exposed a serious weakness in the regulation of governing GM crops when US department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they did not have any authority in to oversee a new variety of GM grass, Kentucky blue grass (Nature, 20 July 2011, Vol 475, pag 274). The Kentcky blue grass was not accepted for commercialisation because the technology advances remove basis for government oversight of GM crops. These are based not on a plant's GM nature but on the techniques used for its genetic modification. With changing technologies, the department says that it lacks the authority to regulate newly created transgenic crops. Technology constantly innovates to fulfil citizen demands, tailoring technology to consumers’ needs. Now, it starts to become obvious that for biotechnology reach the market still another obstacle is left, the Regulators. Therefore, it’s important that the new innovative technologies are keeping up with regulatory processes to guarantee the implementation of GM crops.

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