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Agro genetic engineering: Nothing new on the fields

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Maize field
A maize line of Monsanto is the only worldwide commercially cultivated drought-tolerant GM-plant. © Pixabay/Medienservice

Even though the discussion is mainly about new genetic engineering, CRISPR/Cas and other methods of genome editing, nothing will change on the fields very quickly. For, the large genetic engineering companies continue to rely on plants that are resistant to herbicides and insect pests using classical genetic engineering methods. This is the result of a report by the Gen-Ethical Network (GeN), whose team member Christof Potthof has analysed the development pipelines of the most important agricultural companies.

He noted a clear trend: “The companies combine different traits transferred by classical genetic engineering methods in one plant.” Potthof writes that these stacked events are mainly used to equip plants with tolerances against several herbicides: “Genetically modified plants are currently being developed that can tolerate the application of up to five different herbicides.” More and more weeds have become insensitive to individual herbicides such as glyphosate and can only be sprayed from the field with herbicide cocktails.

“Another important incentive
for the development and preferential marketing of stacked events is
that they enable the companies
to charge significantly higher prices for the seeds.”
– Christof Potthof, GeN

Insect pests have also developed resistance to Bt-toxins produced by genetic engineering plants. Here, too, the companies combine genes so that their plants produce different Bt-toxins and not just one. From the point of view of the manufacturers, these combinations would have another advantage, writes Potthof: “Another important incentive for the development and preferential marketing of stacked events is that they enable the companies to charge significantly higher prices for the seeds.”

Advantages of drought-tolerant GM-plant controversial

One chapter of the report deals with drought-tolerant genetically engineered plants, which, however, hardly play a role in practice. “It has repeatedly been shown that the genetic engineering attempts to transfer dry tolerance to plants have had extremely limited success,” writes Potthof: “The only genetically modified plant with a dry tolerance that is commercially cultivated worldwide is the event MON87460.” However, whether this maize line from Monsanto actually brings advantages in cultivation is controversial. By contrast, Pioneer and Syngenta are marketing dry-tolerant conventional maize varieties.

The report also lists other cereals and vegetables for which cultivation of genetically modified varieties is authorised in individual countries, from potatoes to pumpkins. In most cases, however, the approvals are not used for cultivation or are only used to a limited extent.

More classically engineered GM-plants marketed world

Potthof concludes that the fact that the genetic engineering discussion is currently mainly about plants modified with new genetic engineering methods should not obscure one point: “The vast majority of genetically modified plants that will be marketed worldwide in the next few years have been modified using classical genetic engineering methods.”


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