Two Simplified Briefings Introducing New GM Technologies and Biosafety Risks



The African Centre for Biodiversity
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156

Dear Colleagues and friends

The ACB has today published two simplified briefings on the new GM technologies and associated uncertainties and risks. Download the briefings here. These technologies form part of the on going corporate capture and control by multinational agrochemical and seed companies -including Monsanto, Dow and Dupont- of the global food market, as they continuously hunt for new GM technologies promising high profits.

Techniques for genetically modified (GM) organisms are rapidly evolving and have moved beyond the scope of national and regional GM legislation. This is fuelling biosafety concerns that crops developed with novel genetic modification techniques can bypass GM legislation and thus risk assessment, labelling and even detection.

First generation GM crops are becoming increasingly redundant in their ability to control weeds and pests and have failed to date to increase yields, or decrease food insecurity and hunger; resulting in a plateauing of GM crop adoption across the world. The move towards techniques that escape GM legislation provides a more promising route to market that can avoid regulatory delay and scrutiny. Despite technical advances however, much of the traits being developed with ‘precise techniques’ such as gene editing, remain the same – herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, a testament to the limited potential of genetic modification to address the complexities of plant breeding and behaviour in an ever-evolving environment.

The discussion of whether novel plant breeding techniques fall under the definition of genetic modification has formed consensus around six main techniques – gene editing (including oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis, CRISPR/Cas9 and CRISPR-mediated gene drives, TALENs and zinc-finger nucleases), epigenetic modifiers such as RNA-directed DNA mutagenesis, as well as cisgenesis/intragenesis, grafting and agro-infiltration. Many of these still involve much of the same technical processes of classic GM procedures and thus come with the attendant risks. However, some of them also come with additional known and unpredictable risks to health and environment, exposing the need for risk assessment to advance accordingly to ensure biosafety concerns are thoroughly addressed prior to any marketisation of such crops.

These reports introduce the novel techniques already being employed, or in development and their associated biosafety concerns that go against the claim that crops developed with these methods are technological progress in ‘precision’ and ‘safety’. Further described is the utilisation of RNA interference, an epigenetic process that is already being employed in commercialised crops. Despite not being a novel technique under discussion for GM legislation, the utilisation of epigenetic processes based on RNA interference deserves special consideration for biosafety discussion.

There is growing recognition of the importance of active farmer participation in agricultural innovation and in the development of technologies. The methods must go beyond a simplistic top-down technical ‘fix’ that is then transferred to farmers to adopt, to incorporate a multi-dimensional understanding of innovation that includes context-specific socio-cultural, economic, agro-ecological, and systemic institutional and political dimensions of innovation Instead of adopting novel genetic modification techniques to address agricultural and food security issues, ACB advocates in favour of a shift towards agroecological policies and practises that can holistically address the complexities of crop breeding, food sovereignty and security, climate change and nutrition. Ever evolving techniques that rely on the out dated premise of genetic reductionism are not adequately tested for safety and are unlikely to be effective in solving such problems.

Download the Plant Breeding Report

Download the Gene Editing Report

Kind regards
The ACB team

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