Lobby activities disguised as science

Questionable Statement of Leopoldina and DFG on New GE

30 September 2020 / In a letter to the president of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Prof. Dr. Gerald Haug, Testbiotech has raised some serious questions in relation to a virtual conference planned by Leopoldina and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The organisers plan to present a ‘Statement’ on new genetic engineering techniques (New GE, also called genome editing) and plant breeding during the conference. The authors of the ‘Statement’ claim that there are no specific risks associated with the application of genetic engineering in plant breeding and are demanding changes to EU GMO regulation. As a consequence, most genetically engineered organisms would no longer undergo mandatory risk assessment and approval process as requested by current EU regulation.

Testbiotech has criticised this Statement as being severely biased. Several of the experts involved are themselves filing patent applications in the field of genetic engineering. Some of them are also cooperating with companies such as Bayer. Testbiotech is concerned that the planned conference might become a platform for biotech-lobbyists.

According to Testbiotech, there is not only a question about the independence of the experts but also the content of the Statement is not in line with the necessary scientific standards. The technical potential and risks are not presented adequately. Instead of scientific arguments, assumptions are made that are not sufficiently based on science. There is no detailed analysis of the differences between conventional breeding and New GE and only very general claims are put forward.

Indeed, as several recent publications show, the technical potentials and the risks of New GE are far more complex than presented in the Leopoldina and DFG Statement. Testbiotech welcomes the fact that science-based political decision-making is increasingly in demand in several contexts. However, to safeguard their credibility, scientists should also reflect on their own findings with some degree of self-scepticism. This means, in the context of New GE, all relevant information on risks should be taken into account.

Testbiotech warns that without strict regulation of New GE, the uncontrolled release of large numbers of organisms with biological characteristics not developed gradually through evolution would have to be expected. This would result in the substantial likelihood of damage to ecosystems, agriculture, forestry and food production.

The conference is planned to take place on 1 and 2 October and aims to reach to political decision- makers in the EU. In addition, the EU Commission and the German Ministry of Agriculture have announced they will be represented.

Christoph Then, Tel +49 151 54638040, info@testbiotech.org