NGT plants: EFSA overlooked most powerful and risky applications

17. April 2024

Testbiotech warns EU Commission and Parliament of severe consequences

17 April 2024 / The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has overlooked extremely powerful and risky applications of new genetic engineering (NGTs) on plants. This is particularly worrying as EFSA is responsible for correctly informing the EU institutions about the risks associated with NGT plants. If their reports are not correct or misguiding, it can have consequences for legislation and the future safety of health and the environment.

Several publications show that CRISPR/Cas gene scissors are a highly effective tool for knocking out genes coding for so-called micro-RNAs (miRNA). The miRNA molecules regulate various complex functions in regard to, e.g. growth, development and stress responses. Just a few changes in the genes producing miRNAs can cause profound in-depth changes in plant metabolism, involving regulatory networks of hundreds of genes. Nevertheless, EFSA has failed to consider any of these applications in its opinions on NGT plants.

Knock-out of miRNA genes is practically impossible to achieve with conventional breeding methods due to the genome organisation in plants. In the past, similar effects were only achieved in transgenic plants. However, CRISPR/Cas has proved to be much more efficient at targeting several miRNA genes simultaneously.

The depth of intervention from miRNA genes being knocked out was shown, for example, in rice: Chinese and US researchers (Zhou et al., 2022) used CRISPR/Cas to knock out two genes of a family of miRNA genes involved in growth and development as well as in plant-pathogen interaction. They observed changes in expression of 119 miRNAs and further 763 genes coding for proteins. The authors state that their results could be directly translated into the breeding practice that may face less regulatory burden than transgenic plants in many countries.

Currently, transgenic plants with a knock-down in miRNAs genes have to undergo mandatory risk assessment before they are released. This would, however, not necessarily be the case for plants obtained from NGTs if the proposed EU Commission and EU Parliament plans for deregulation are accepted: the genetic changes needed to knock-out miRNA genes are a perfect match for the loopholes in the proposals for deregulating NGT plants. Consequently, NGT plants with new traits but also high risk characteristics could be released into the environment without first undergoing mandatory risk assessment.

Testbiotech is urging EFSA to revise its opinions. Furthermore, Testbiotech is calling upon the EU Commission and the EU Parliament to withdraw their proposals for the deregulation of NGT plants. Before continuing discussions, many more case studies and risk scenarios need to be made available in order to create a solid basis for decision-making.

It is planned to present more details in an online workshop on Friday, 19 April 2024 (10-12 a.m.). Please register at the following e-mail address:

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 151 54638040

Further information: 

Publication Zhou et al. (2022)

Presentations by the speakers

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