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Biosafety Science » Emerging Trends/Techniques

Title: Broadening the Debate on the Development of Cisgenic Plants
Publication date: September 06, 2017
Posting date: September 06, 2017

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Broadening the Debate on the Development of Cisgenic Plants

At present, in the European Union (EU), both genetically modified (GM) plants with cisgenic approaches – using genes from crossable species – as well as transgenic approaches – using genes from different species – fall under genetically modified organism (GMO) regulation and are mandatorily labelled as GMOs. Those in favour of this argue that the same technique is applied with cisgenic and transgenic approaches. It also ensures the traceability and labelling of the GMO products. Opponents say it hinders marketability.

There is increased international recognition and significance to consider a broader range of issues beyond the environmental and human safety-related aspects – such as sustainability, social utility and ethical justifiability – when assessing the use of agricultural biotechnologies.

Researchers from GenØk–Centre for Biosafety, Norway organised a series of three workshops to identify stakeholder perspectives on agricultural biotechnological developments, using cisgenic late blight resistant (LBR) GM potato as the case study.

In the resulting report, the researchers argue that the debate is currently too narrowly focused on the regulation of cisgenic plants and fails to recognize the broader issues that are persistently raised within society about GM approaches in general. The researchers conclude that in order to develop truly responsible governance for agricultural biotechnology, the scope of the debate on cisgenic approaches in Europe should be broadened to include other significant concerns raised by stakeholders within the agricultural sector, and the public in general. They discuss concerns around the (technical) solution offered (in this case, the LBR GM potato), the problem phrasing of the late blight potato disease, the durability of the resistance of the GM potato, and patenting and ownership. The paper thus contributes to a recognition of the complex socio-ecological, legal, and political dimensions in which a technological development is entangled as a means to acknowledge, discuss and respond to such concerns. It offers policy-relevant input to ongoing efforts to broaden the scope of risk assessments of agricultural biotechnologies.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
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Malaysia
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____________________________________________________________________________

IS IT ONLY THE REGULATORY STATUS? BROADENING THE DEBATE ON CISGENIC PLANTS

van Hove, L., & Gillund, F. 
Environmental Sciences Europe, 29(1), 22
https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-017-0120-2
26 June 2017

Abstract

In current debates on emerging technologies for plant breeding in Europe, much attention has been given to the regulatory status of these techniques and their public acceptance. At present, both genetically modified plants with cisgenic approaches—using genes from crossable species—as well as transgenic approaches—using genes from different species—fall under GMO regulation in the EU and both are mandatorily labelled as GMOs. Researchers involved in the early development of cisgenic GM plants convey the message that the potential use and acceptance of cisgenic approaches will be seriously hindered if GMO regulations are not adjusted. Although the similar treatment and labelling of transgenic and cisgenic plants may be a legitimate concern for the marketability of a cisgenic GM plant, there are concerns around their commercialization that reach beyond the current focus on (de)regulation. In this paper, we will use the development of the cisgenic GM potato that aims to overcome ‘late blight’—the most devastating potato disease worldwide—as a case to argue that it is important to recognize, reflect and respond to broader concerns than the dominant focus on the regulatory ‘burden’ and consumer acceptance. Based on insights we gained from discussing this case with diverse stakeholders within the agricultural sector and potato production in Norway during a series of workshops, we elaborate on additional issues such as the (technical) solution offered; different understandings of the late blight problem; the durability of the potato plant resistance; and patenting and ownership. Hence, this paper contributes to empirical knowledge on stakeholder perspectives on emerging plant breeding technologies, underscoring the importance to broaden the scope of the debate on the opportunities and challenges of agricultural biotechnologies, such as cisgenic GM plants. The paper offers policy-relevant input to ongoing efforts to broaden the scope of risk assessments of agricultural biotechnologies. We aim to contribute to the recognition of the complex socio-ecological, legal and political dimensions in which these technological developments are entangled as a means to acknowledge, discuss and respond to these concerns and thereby contribute to more comprehensive and responsible developments within agricultural biotechnology.

Conclusion

In this paper, we have discussed important concerns in the debate about the development of [late blight resistant] LBR GM potato in Europe, which go beyond the regulatory status of cisgenic LBR potato and consumer acceptance of cisgenic plants. Although we recognize the importance of clarifying the regulation of cisgenic plants, we argue that this debate is currently too narrowly focused and fails to recognize the broader issues that are persistently addressed within society about GM approaches in general and that, therefore, it is important to broaden the scope of the debate on cisgenic plants. Although the importance to proactively engage in ‘post-research’ issues by researchers involved in the development of LBR GM potato is emphasized and arguably contributes to the recognition of broader concerns, these are often phrased in the sense of ‘educating’ or ‘informing’ public, rather than listening and acting upon their concerns. By discussing concerns around the (technical) solution offered, the problem phrasing of the late blight potato disease, the durability of this solution, and patenting and ownership, we hope to contribute to a recognition of the complex socio-ecological, legal and political dimensions in which this technological development is entangled and stimulate discussion that takes this broader view into account. Importantly, we recognize that more concerns can be identified related to the development of cisgenic plants and that we touch upon questions and concerns that would benefit from deeper reflection and further investigation. While concerns mentioned in this paper are specifically formulated around the case of LBR GM potato, we do not consider them to be exclusive to this particular technological development. Rather, we believe that these issues can be found across different agricultural biotechnological developments and approaches—such as CRISPR/Cas9 and synthetic biology—and are therefore important concerns to reflect upon and respond to. Thus, in order to develop truly responsible governance for agricultural biotechnology, the scope of the debate on cisgenic approaches in Europe should be broadened to include other significant concerns raised by stakeholders within the agricultural sector, and the public in general.


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