Precise plant breeding using new genome editing techniques: opportunities, safety and regulation in the EU
Several new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) have been developed during the last decade, and make it possible to precisely perform genome modifications in plants. The major problem, other than technical aspects, is the vagueness of regulation concerning these new techniques. Since the definition of eight NPBTs by a European expert group in 2007, there has been an ongoing debate on whether the resulting plants and their products are covered by GMO legislation. Obviously, cover by GMO legislation would severely hamper the use of NPBT, because genetically modified plants must pass a costly and time-consuming GMO approval procedure in the EU. In this review, we compare some of the NPBTs defined by the EU expert group with classical breeding techniques and conventional transgenic plants. The list of NPBTs may be shortened (or extended) during the international discussion process initiated by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. From the scientific point of view, it may be argued that plants developed by NPBTs are often indistinguishable from classically bred plants and are not expected to possess higher risks for health and the environment. In light of the debate on the future regulation of NPBTs and the accumulated evidence on the biosafety of genetically modified plants that have been commercialized and risk-assessed worldwide, it may be suggested that plants modified by crop genetic improvement technologies, including genetic modification, NPBTs or other future techniques, should be evaluated according to the new trait and the resulting end product rather than the technique used to create the new plant variety.