Regulation Plant Biotech 2.0: CRISPR potato as a case study

Date: 13th June 2018

Time: 1:00-3:00 pm

Venue: Banquet Hall (Festsaal Erweiterung), University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

Chairs: 

Per Sandin, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala 

Karin Edvardsson Björnberg, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm 

Helena Röcklinsberg, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala 

Mickey Gjerris, University of Copenhagen

Corresponding Organizer:

Per Sandin (per.sandin(at)slu.se [Link 1])

Context and Aims:

Potatoes are as staple food in many areas of the world. It is also a food with strong cultural significance, not least in Northern Europe. 

A main component of potatoes is starch. Starch consists of amylose and amylopectin. The first substance has a low glycemic index and is consequently regarded as being healthier. At the same time, there is a multitude of industrial applications for both amylose and amylopectin on their own. Within a Swedish research program (Mistra Biotech) a potato that produces starch with more amylose and an altered amylopectin structure has been developed using the technology of of RNA interference (RNAi). A new, similar, amylose potato, is currently being developed using directed mutagenesis with the aid of the CRISPR/Cas9 technique. 

Such technologies are currently in a state of regulatory uncertainty in the EU. It is yet unclear whether they will be classified as GMOs or not. In the former case, their introduction will be surrounded with a complex and lengthy review procedure, in the latter case not. This has far-reaching consequences for the commercialization of such crops. 

Using the Low-GI CRISPR potato as a starting point, we will discuss the ethical underpinnings and challenging of regulating such crops, i.e. plants developed with new types of genetic engineering with intended health benefits (and other non-agronomic benefits). 

Invited Discussants: 

Dennis Eriksson holds a PhD in Genetics and Plant Breeding and is an expert on policy-related issues of plant biotechnology and genetic resources. He is a researcher at the Department of Plant Breeding at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp and affiliated with the Mistra Biotech Programme.

Karin Edvardsson Björnberg is associate professor of environmental philosophy at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, with research interests at the intersection of environmental philosophy, public policy analysis and environmental law. She is affiliated with the Mistra Biotech Programme.

Bjørn Kåre Myskja is professor in ethics and political philosophy at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He is a member of the  Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board.

Paul B Thompson is a philosopher and the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University. He is the author or co-author of over two hundred articles in refereed journals or scholarly books. His book From Field to Fork: Food Ethics for Everyone was published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

Key Questions:

  • Are there morally relevant differences between crops developed with CRISPR/Cas9 and other technologies?
  • How should this be reflected in regulation? 

Traget Group:

Plant breeding scientists, regulators and policy makers, biotech industry, other stakeholders in biotech regulation 

Key Words:

CRISPR/Cas9, genetic engineering, EU regulation 

Links To Further Readings:

Eriksson D et al Why the European Union needs a national GMO opt-in mechanism. Nature Biotechnology 36, 18–19 (2018) https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4051 [Link 2]

IFOAM. Position Paper: Compatibility of Breeding Techniques in Organic Systems https://www.ifoam.bio/sites/default/files/position_paper_v01_web_0.pdf [Link 3] (2017)

Mistra Biotech Annual Report https://www.slu.se/globalassets/ew/org/centrb/mbiot/publikationer/mistrabiotech-ar2017-webb.pdf [Link 4]

Norwegian Gene Technology Advisory Board. Summary: The Gene Technology Act – Invitation to Public Debate. http://www.bioteknologiradet.no/filarkiv/2017/12/Genteknologiloven-sammendrag-engelsk-til-web.pdf [Link 5]

Zetterberg, C. & Edvardsson Björnberg, K Time for a New EU Regulatory Framework for GM Crops? J Agr Env Ethics https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10806-017-9664-9 [Link 6]