NGTs: New challenges for risk assessment

First comprehensive overview of NGT applications in bacteria, algae and animals used in food production

2. July 2024

A recent study published by scientists from Austria and by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation provides a first comprehensive overview of new genetic engineering (NGT) applications in bacteria, algae and animals used for food production. It shows that the number of NGT organisms intended for commercialization is much higher than was previously assumed.

Many NGT applications appear to be economically interesting, but are often associated with environmental risks. There are also a number of animal welfare issues. One of the observations made by the experts is that there is often too little data available. In view of the large number of potential applications submitted for approval, they warn of considerable challenges in risk assessment.

The new study shows that many applications on animals are aimed at increasing muscle mass or a higher yield, including some which are ethically dubious. One of them is slowing down fast-swimming tuna in order to make the NGT fishes more suitable for aquaculture.

In the case of algae, NGT efforts have been mainly concentrated on microalgae to extract oils for fuels. In order to be able to produce sufficiently large quantities of oil from microalgae, they would have to be kept in (semi-) open tanks, which would not prevent them from spreading in the environment.

Scientists are, amongst other, looking at genetically engineered bacteria for use in arable crops, e. g.  to improve the uptake of nitrogen. Unintended interactions with NGT bacteria and risks for the environment remain largely unexplored.

The overview is also relevant to discussions on the future regulation of NGT organisms in the EU. Following the intense debate on NGT plants in recent months, many observers expect that new legislative proposals for animals and microorganisms will soon follow.

Christoph Then,, Tel 0151 54638040

Further information:

The study

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