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New Biotechnology
Vol. xx, No. xx, 2013; Pages: xx–xx

Genomic Misconception: a fresh look at the biosafety of transgenic and conventional crops. A plea for a process agnostic regulation

Klaus Ammann

University of Bern, Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


The regulation of genetically engineered crops, in Europe and within the legislation of the Cartagena biosafety protocol is built on false premises: The claim was (and unfortunately still is) that there is a basic difference between conventional and transgenic crops, this despite the fact that this has been rejected on scientifically solid grounds since many years. This contribution collects some major arguments for a fresh look at regulation of transgenic crops, they are in their molecular processes of creation not basically different from conventional crops, which are based in their breeding methods on natural, sometimes enhanced mutation. But the fascination and euphoria of the discoveries in molecular biology and the new perspectives in plant breeding in the sixties and seventies led to the wrong focus on transgenic plants alone. In a collective framing process the initial biosafety debates focused on the novelty of the process of transgenesis. When early debates on the risk assessment merged into legislative decisions, this wrong focus on transgenesis alone seemed uncontested. The process-focused view was also fostered by a conglomerate of concerned scientists and biotechnology companies, both with a vested interest to at least tolerate the rise of the safety threshold to secure research money and to discourage competitors of all kinds. Policy minded people and opponent activists without deeper insight in the molecular science agreed to those efforts without much resistance. It is interesting to realize, that the focus on processes was uncontested by a majority of regulators, this despite of serious early warnings from important authorities in science, mainly of US origin. It is time to change the regulation of genetically modified (GM) crops toward a more science based process — agnostic legislation. Although this article concentrates on the critique of the process-oriented regulation, including some details about the history behind, there should be no misunderstanding that there are other important factors responsible for the failure of this kind of process-oriented regulation, most importantly: the predominance of politics in the decision making processes combined with the lack of serious scientific debates on regulatory matters within the European Union and also in the Cartagena system, the obscure and much too complex decision making structures within the EU, and the active, professional, negative and intimidating role of fundamental opposition against GM crops on all levels dealing with flawed science, often declared as better parallel science published by ‘independent’ scientists.

Keywords:genetically engineered crops; regulation of transgenic crops; metabolization; microbiological safety.

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