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posted by hubie on Thursday May 25, @03:26AM   Printer-friendly

Last year's drought severely affected crops in Europe

Extreme weather caused by climate change has damaged food production across Europe.

Confronted with a deteriorating situation, divided European Union decision-makers are debating new rules for genetically modified crops.

Last year's drought ravaged the continent's farms, starving everything from Spanish olive harvests to Hungary's maize and sunflower crops, Italian and Romanian corn fields to France's dairy production.

Some argue the answer to Europe's problems is deregulating gene modification techniques to produce better crops. Others claim this would be a "smokescreen" to avoid having to radically change the way the bloc farms.

Supporters say seeds produced using gene editing techniques are less vulnerable to drought and disease—and require less water.

[...] The powerful European farming lobby group Copa-Cogeca supports the new rules.

"If we need to supply society with food in Europe, and if we want to be self-sufficient, then we need to adapt rules," said Thor Gunnar Kofoed, chair of the seed working group at Copa-Cogeca.

A majority of EU lawmakers support relaxing the rules.

[...] The Greens want a full risk assessment to avoid unintended effects and force producers to ensure detection and traceability methods, and make labeling compulsory.

Labeling would put off consumers who prefer GMO-free food, said Mute Schimpf, a campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, who criticized the reform.

"This proposal is a smokescreen to avoid the debate we should have on shifting to a truly sustainable farming system," she told AFP.

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, @04:37AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 25, @04:37AM (#1308057)

    The real issue is not GM food in and of itself. In "food conservative" countries like France, there is already all kinds of industrial cr*p in the food sections and people are free to buy them or not.
    The problems are what comes with GM food:
    - copyrighted seeds (forgot the exact name) and all the issues related to cost and licensing,
    - loss of genetic diversity in crops,
    - impact of GM chemistry on pollinators,
    - uncontrollable spread of GM material to nearby areas...

    Perhaps last year drought-resistant GM seeds would have been the solution, what about this and next year? Most people don’t want to be limited to buying "The Apple®" and like to have a variety of options. Is there already a variety of GM seeds multi-resistant to all foreseeable scourges?

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by ElizabethGreene on Thursday May 25, @06:09AM (2 children)

    by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Thursday May 25, @06:09AM (#1308062)

    Whatever rules they implement, someone is going to have to be very specific about what constitutes "Gene editing". Some of the techniques, like CRISPR, are obviously on their list. Then there is Bacterial transfer using Agrobacterium tumefaciens to cut in genes. That seems obvious too. Then there's printing a bunch of the target dna, dipping a wee tiny bullet in it, and shooting it into the plant. All those are "easy" to put on that list, but they represent a tiny fraction of how we've modified plant genetics. A. tumefaciens doesn't only gene splice in a lab; it, other bacteria, and viruses have been injecting their DNA into plants for eons before primates dominated the earth. Do they count? Then we have wildly successful programs where we Nuked plants [], induced triploidy via mechanical damage or hybridization, and used mutagenic carcinogens like ethyl methanesulfonate to give us feedstocks for selective breeding. Even selective breeding alone is genetic modification at some level.

    Drawing a box around what is and isn't gene editing isn't trivial.

    • (Score: 2) by hendrikboom on Saturday May 27, @06:26PM (1 child)

      by hendrikboom (1125) on Saturday May 27, @06:26PM (#1308533) Homepage Journal

      Might be more effective to ban seeds designed to prevent a second generation.
      Or to refuse to recognize patents on plant varieties.

      • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Sunday May 28, @05:41PM

        by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Sunday May 28, @05:41PM (#1308684)

        Might be more effective to ban seeds designed to prevent a second generation.

        There was work done on "Terminator" genes (brilliant anti-marketing went into the name of that, BTW) where the seed produced by the plants would be sterile. To my knowledge this technology never went beyond the lab.

        Many commercial seeds (from both gene-edited and naturally selected germ lines) are "F1 Hybrids". That means they have parents from two different species or subspecies. Hybrids are popular because of "Hybrid Vigor", a tendency for the child plants to amplify traits from both parents. Hybrid plants don't "Breed True". Because of the randomization of genetics their offspring, the "F2" generation, displays far more variability and most offspring don't have the same hybrid vigor amplified traits. I wouldn't support banning of F1 Hybrids seeds, the advantages of hybrids are too strong for that. I would strongly support that the seeds be labeled as F1 hybrids so farmers know they won't breed true. Most seed catalogs are very clear about what seeds are hybrids already because hybrid vigor is a big selling point.

        Or to refuse to recognize patents on plant varieties.

        I can't support this, unfortunately, and I hope I can convince you of why it wouldn't be a good idea. New plant cultivars don't "grow on trees". It's getting hot here and my spinach has bolted (turning bitter and growing a tall spiky seed head), so I'll use those as an example. Let's say I want to make a non-bitter spinach you can grow in Tennessee in the summer. To do that the old-fashioned way I'm going to start hundreds of different plants of dozens of as many off-patent cultivars of spinach as I can find. Then I'll plant them out now, when it's too hot. I let them grow until they start to bolt and chop down the first 90% to start throwing seed heads. From the remaining 10% I can either let them cross naturally or go chop the male parts out of a bunch of immature flowers, gather pollen from other plants, and do manual fertilization of those flowers. Those go to seed and I repeat the process across years until I get one or two plants that are slow bolting. These are the parents of my new cultivar. Now I have to breed multiple generations of those get them to breed true and make sure the slow bolting trait is strongly heritable. Then I have to work on any traits I might have lost in that selection, e.g. leaf size, germination rate, sweetness, etc, and also make sure that I haven't made them day-length dependent. *

        That represents years of work invested into improving a plant. We want people to do that work, and the way we encourage them to do it is by allowing them a patent, the exclusive right to sell that specific plant for 20 years. After that 20 years anyone can plant it or use its genetics, but for that first 20 years they have exclusivity.

        ... 20 years is a good amount of time too, if perhaps a little short. If I had my 'druthers, patents and copyright would both be around that value, with an expensive time-bound non-automatic option to renew them once and one time only.

        * If anyone wants to work on plants like this, I have a couple of other ideas for things to work on. Amaranth and Pigweed are in the same family and evolution has given us a bunch of glyphosate resistant strains of the latter. If you want to make a Glyphosate resistant Amaranth grain crop for no-till farming this could probably be done in 2-3 generations. I'd also be interested in a bolt resistant non-fibrous sweet spinach that isn't an absolute ass to germinate would be 10/10 awesome. Non-hairy large-pod okra would be nice. Last but not least, down here in the south we used to eat a lot of Poke Sallet, a dish made from the young leaves of the poisonous pokeweed plant. People are scared of poke sallet now, and I'd love to see a strain of pokeweed that doesn't develop Phytolacca toxin as it matures so we can bring it back to our tables.