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Academies issue statement on progress in molecular breeding and on the possible national ban on cultivation of genetically modified plants
(2015, 5 pages)
Since the mid-1990s, cultivation of genetically modified plants has been increasing steadily. These plants differ from the original cultivars in that genes are deliberately introduced into the plants, or existing genes are deliberately modified. This intervention may lead, for example, to increased resistance to pests or adaptations in the composition of vitamins and storage compounds such as starch and fatty acids. In 2014, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were grown on 13 percent of the world’s farmland. Science-based data show that the use of GMOs can result in increased yields, higher incomes for farmers, and reduced use of insecticides. The international trend towards increased GMO cultivation is clearly visible; however, it conflicts with the political and legal situation in Germany, where field tests and commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants are no longer taking place.
It is questionable whether the regulations under the German Genetic Engineering Act, which are linked to specific types of genetic modification, are still practicable and appropriate. The breeding products of some new molecular genetic methods can hardly be distinguished, or cannot be distinguished at all, from the products of non-regulated techniques that are considered conventional breeding. Moreover, similar plants can be produced using traditional breeding methods, but those methods are less efficient and take much longer.
The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities strongly recommend that future risk assessment should be based primarily on the specific characteristics of new plant cultivars and not on the process by which they are produced. The Academies argue against a general ban on GMO cultivation, which is not scientifically justified. The Academies consider such prohibitions in Germany an acute threat to freedom of research and professional freedom, to property protection and general freedom of action, and thus to opportunities for studying, developing and commercially utilising genetically engineered crop plants. Therefore, the German academies emphatically recommend a science-based evaluation on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, field trials are indispensable for risk assessment of GMOs, especially following a deregulation procedure.
Head of Department Science – Policy – Society, Head of Berlin Office
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