Why the discussion on regulation is not enough


Scientist Lilian van Hove and former GenØk scientist Frøydis Gillund have published new article in Environmental Sciences Europe.

The past couple of years, there have been rapid developments within emerging technologies for plant breeding in Europe. The debates in political and academic domain focus mainly on public acceptance of these techniques and how they should be regulated. One such technique is cisgenesis. With this approach, a crop is genetically modified using genes from crossable species instead of other species. In the past years, this approach has been used to develop potatoes that are resistant to late blight – the most devastating potato disease worldwide. The debate on the development of this potato follows the trend of discussing the regulatory status of this approach. Based on three workshops with stakeholders within the agriculture sector and potato industry in Norway, the authors have identified additional concerns that should be considered when discussing these techniques. The concerns discussed in this article are (1) the (technical) solution offered (2) different understandings of the late blight problem (3) the durability of the potato plant resistance and (4) patenting and ownership. By addressing these concerns, this article aims to broaden the scope of the debate on cisgenic plants and contribute to more responsible forms of agricultural biotechnology.

Use this link if you want to read the entire article.

van Hove, L. and Gillund, F. (2017). “Is it only the regulatory status? Broadening the debate on cisgenic plants”, Environ Sci Eur 29 (22). doi:10.1186/s12302-017-0120-2 (open access)

In current debates on emerging technologies for plant breeding in Europe, much attention has been given to the regulatory status of these techniques and their public acceptance. At present, both genetically modified plants with cisgenic approaches—using genes from crossable species—as well as transgenic approaches—using genes from different species—fall under GMO regulation in the EU and both are mandatorily labelled as GMOs. Researchers involved in the early development of cisgenic GM plants convey the message that the potential use and acceptance of cisgenic approaches will be seriously hindered if GMO regulations are not adjusted. Although the similar treatment and labelling of transgenic and cisgenic plants may be a legitimate concern for the marketability of a cisgenic GM plant, there are concerns around their commercialization that reach beyond the current focus on (de)regulation. In this paper, we will use the development of the cisgenic GM potato that aims to overcome ‘late blight’—the most devastating potato disease worldwide—as a case to argue that it is important to recognize, reflect and respond to broader concerns than the dominant focus on the regulatory ‘burden’ and consumer acceptance. Based on insights we gained from discussing this case with diverse stakeholders within the agricultural sector and potato production in Norway during a series of workshops, we elaborate on additional issues such as the (technical) solution offered; different understandings of the late blight problem; the durability of the potato plant resistance; and patenting and ownership. Hence, this paper contributes to empirical knowledge on stakeholder perspectives on emerging plant breeding technologies, underscoring the importance to broaden the scope of the debate on the opportunities and challenges of agricultural biotechnologies, such as cisgenic GM plants. The paper offers policy-relevant input to ongoing efforts to broaden the scope of risk assessments of agricultural biotechnologies. We aim to contribute to the recognition of the complex socio-ecological, legal and political dimensions in which these technological developments are entangled as a means to acknowledge, discuss and respond to these concerns and thereby contribute to more comprehensive and responsible developments within agricultural biotechnology.