Turbulent times for CRISPR mustard greens

Pairwise is focusing on making profound changes to our food crops

19. March 2024

19 March 2024 / According to a report published by ‘Food Navigator’ in February 2024, US company Pairwise will no longer directly market mustard greens obtained from new genetic engineering (NGT). The company has said it will continue to market the plants via business partners, although these have yet to be found. Pairwise brought the mustard greens to the US market in 2023 as one of the first NGT plants worldwide.

The NGT mustard (Brassica juncea), for which the company has already filed two patents (WO2021030738 and WO2024020360), has a profoundly changed metabolism: it does no longer produce pungent components that are typical for this species.

In nature, these pungent substances serve as a defence against plant pests, and are associated with positive health effects when consumed. Why consumers should expect particular benefits from CRISPR mustard greens is unclear, as well as the impact on ecosystems from the cultivation of these plants.

Conventionally-bred mustard greens may also have a reduced concentration of bitter substances. However, the extreme changes in the metabolism of the CRISPR plants, resulting in the extreme suppression in the production of bitter substances, could not be achieved with any other previously applied breeding methods.

Although the mustard plants can be clearly distinguished from previous varieties in terms of their intended and unintended properties, the new regulatory proposals of EU Parliament and Commission mean that they would have the same legal status as plants obtained from conventional breeding. They could therefore be cultivated without prior detailed examination of the risks. Amongst others, there would be a risk of the plants spreading uncontrollably in the environment. In addition, they are mainly pollinated by insects, and can thus spread beyond the fields.

The company, Pairwise, has, amongst others, cooperation agreements with the Bayer Group; it has also already registered over 250 patents worldwide. Its main focus is on achieving far-reaching changes to our food crops, including maize and soy, but also cherries, strawberries and blackberries. At the same time, the company is actively campaigning for the abolition of mandatory risk assessment.

However, it appears to be doubtful whether there is actually a market for NGT plants such as cherries without stones or mustard greens without bitter substances. Whatever the case, it is essential to examine risks to humans and the environment in detail and, where applicable, have measures in place to prevent uncontrolled spread.

Against this backdrop, Testbiotech is criticising the current proposals for the deregulation of NGT plants in the EU, as these plans cannot be scientifically justified.

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

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