In this statement the EASAC expresses their views on the critical importance of supporting innovation in plant breeding to contribute to EU objectives in agriculture and food and nutrition security.
New breeding techniques are emerging rapidly from advances in genomic research, for application in crop improvement. They enable precise, targeted, reliable changes in the genome (and, thus, are different from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), produced previously) and have significant potential for the sustainable intensification of agriculture and food security, when used as part of the deployment of all available approaches and building on existing good agronomic practice. Unlike chemical- or radiation-induced mutagenesis, often traditionally used as a basis for crop improvement, the new breeding techniques do not create multiple, unknown, unintended mutations throughout the genome.
For several of the techniques, the resultant plant product is free from genes foreign to the species and would not be distinguishable from the product generated by conventional breeding techniques. This calls into question what is meant by genetic modification and raises issues for the modernisation of regulatory frameworks.
EASAC recommends the following:
- European Union (EU) policy development for agricultural innovation should be transparent, proportionate and fully informed by the advancing scientific evidence and experience worldwide.
- It is timely to resolve current legislative uncertainties. We ask that EU regulators confirm that the products of new breeding techniques, when they do not contain foreign DNA, do not fall within the scope of GMO legislation.
- The aim in the EU should be to regulate the specific agricultural trait and/or product, not the technology.
- The European Commission and Member States should do more to support fundamental research in plant sciences and protect the testing in field trials of novel crop variants.
- Modernising EU regulatory frameworks would help to address the implications of current policy disconnects in support of science and innovation at regional and global levels. At the same time, there is also continuing need for wide-ranging engagement on critical issues and this should include re-examination of the appropriate use of the precautionary principle.
The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) is an alliance between the national academies of EU member states. Its members work together to provide independent, evidence-based advice to European policy-makers on a wide range of science-related topics. EASAC thus ensures that science plays a greater role in EU policy-making.