New GE: Risks of unintended genetic changes are ‘overlooked’

EU Commission discussion paper leaked

3 April 2023 / Testbiotech has criticized an EU Commission services discussion paper which has been leaked to the public. The paper outlines criteria that might be applied in the deregulation of plants derived from methods of new genetic engineering (New GE or NGTs). It compares genetic alterations caused by the processes of New GE to those known from previous methods of conventional breeding and random mutagenesis.

The discussion assumes that the intended genetic changes resulting from, e. g. CRISPR/Cas applications, may be different in comparison to those resulting from conventional breeding, but states that this would not be the case with unintended genetic alterations. However, the authors have ‘overlooked’ that intended as well as unintended genetic changes introduced by NGTs (such as ‘CRISPR/Cas’ gene scissors) both are caused by the same mechanisms and processes.

Indeed, several studies show that the use of NGT processes can result in unintended genetic changes that are unlikely to result from conventional breeding or random mutagenesis, regardless of whether these were intended or not. Any such genetic changes are highly relevant to NGT risk assessment. The reason: these changes may trigger adverse effects to health and the environment that go beyond what is known from conventional breeding. Since this background is not mentioned in the discussion paper, it is not only insufficient but misleading.

Testbiotech concludes that in future, all plants derived from processes of New GE still need to undergo mandatory risk assessment. This risk assessment is indispensable for concluding on which genetic irregularities are caused NGT processes and whether they may have an impact on health and the environment.

Furthermore, Testbiotech is warning that if hazardous unintended genetic changes are overlooked, they can spread quickly within breeding populations and accumulate by further cross breeding. These effects would have the potential to put the future of plant and animal breeding at risk, and thus pose a risk to the food security of future generations. In a letter to the EU Commission, now these problems have been summarized.

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 151 54638040