SCIENTISTS UNITE TO SAFEGUARD PRECISION BREEDING
Appeal comes in the wake of the European Court of Justice’s ruling that regulation of the technology should fall under existing GMO laws.
Scientists from more than 85 European research institutions, including Rothamsted Research, have called upon European policy makers to use the most up to date scientific evidence when evaluating the development of new crop varieties.
The signatories, including Rothamsted Research Director, Professor Achim Dobermann, argue that the relevant legislation is too stringent and does not reflect the current state of our scientific knowledge.
“Organisms created through precision breeding should fall under the same laws that apply to classically bred plant varieties,” he said.
When humans first domesticated plants for food, the only way they could get beneficial traits was to wait for unpredictable natural mutations to arise and then breed from that plant – so called artificial selection.
In modern times, chemicals or radiation have been applied to seeds to speed up this process of mutation, although such methods are just as likely to produce undesirable results as welcome ones.
Precision breeding uses recently developed, targeted techniques to edit small sections of the existing DNA that underlie very specific plant traits such as drought or disease tolerance.
Unlike GM, it does not involve the incorporation of genetic material from other species.
Professor Dobermann added: “Over the course of the coming generation, the world’s population will increase by twenty five percent. Add in political uncertainty, climate change, less land available for farming, and declining natural resources, and it will be a huge challenge to feed these two billion extra mouths.
“Precision breeding will open the door to the development of higher yielding, more nutritious, more resilient crops.
“Science needs every possible tool in its toolbox if it is to create specially tailored crops that produce more food from less land and do so in the face of increased drought and diseases. Too stringent European regulations will essentially halt scientific progress in this area.
“That’s why I have endorsed this appeal to safeguard innovative plant breeding techniques from outdated and uninformed decision making.”
About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.