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Germany to allow GMOs without labelling

German Research Minister Johanna Wanka, © Bundesregierung

While GMO opponents are protesting, German Research Minister Johanna Wanka has recommended to rely on modern genetic engineering methods such as genome editing to develop the next generation of crops.

„What took generations with conventional breeding methods, is possible today much faster and more accurate in the lab, with these methods,“ said Wanka. We have the responsibility to broaden and increase knowledge, she stressed at a meeting organised by pro-GMO science associations in Berlin. At the same time, the German government has proposed to decide on a case-by-case base whether those novel breeding methods lead to GMOs and must be labeled. The legal proposal has been smuggeled into a draft of the German Genetic Engineering Act, which is currently extended to met the EU’s (opt-out) requirements for national bans on GMO cultivation.

Green party genetic engineering spokesman Harald Ebner demanded more transpareny. „The EU rules on GMO clearly define a GMO as process- but not product-related.“ In brief, that means that it doesn’t matter if you can’t findengineered DNA in the product if it was only designed using genetic engineering. Consumers must have the choice, Ebner told European Biotechnology. He accused the government’s legal proposal to support industry interests to find a backdoor to bring GMOs to the table. According to latest Eurobarometer polls, currently there is no market for GM food in Europe.  The percentage of Europeans opposed to GM food is 58%.

However, scientist say as conventionally made breeds and genome edited crops lead to the same result that cannot be distinguished even by analytical methods, it is time to adapt regulation to reality – and decide case-by-case if there is any foreign DNA added to the crop. If not, they argue, there is obviously no difference to so-called natural products, that is higly optimised breeds by means of conventional breeding techniques.

Internationally, regulations concerning methods such as oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis or gene knock-out be genome editing are heterogeneous. While the US, Argentina or India favour a case-by-case evaluation, which regularly leads to grant of a non-GMO-state, Switzerland and Australia believe that these techniques generate GMOs. The US and the European Commission announced they would regulate new breeding techniques but have postponed the political decision several times.