Young plant: The in vitro breeding technique of random mutagenesis is not genetic engineering
Photo: Albert Fertl/Getty Images
So-called random mutagenesis has long been used in plants and seeds.
The breeding technique is used, for example, to develop new varieties of grain, fruit or vegetables for agriculture that are more resistant to extreme heat or drought.
For this purpose, genetic changes are frequently introduced into the genome of plants using radiation and chemicals.
So far, this technology has not been subject to the strict EU law on genetic engineering.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has now ruled that plants created in this way should no longer be regulated as genetically modified.
This means that there is no labeling requirement in the supermarket.
Specifically, the judgment deals with what is known as in-vitro random mutagenesis.
The mutations are generated in the laboratory in the genetic material of plant cells and tissues by means of radiation or chemicals.
Subsequently, breeders select plants that exhibit useful properties.
In vitro random mutagenesis has been “recognized as safe for a long time”
The background was a legal dispute in France.
Small farmers and non-governmental organizations wanted to ensure that products created using in vitro random mutagenesis were subject to the same regulations that apply to transgenic plants, among other things.
A French court turned to the ECJ to clarify the issue.
He now argued by comparing in vitro random mutagenesis with so-called in vivo random mutagenesis.
In the in-vivo method, in contrast to the in-vitro method, whole plants or their seeds are irradiated or treated with chemicals.
In vivo random mutagenesis is already "conventionally" used in a number of applications and has "long been considered safe," according to the court.
If such an in-vivo process is transferred to organisms in-vitro, these are excluded from the provisions for genetically modified crops.
Nobel laureate argues for green genetic engineering
In an interview with SPIEGEL, agricultural scientist Jochen Kumlehn explained that in vitro random mutagenesis is only indirectly related to genetic engineering, as discussed in public (read the interview here).
The genetic changes only occur more frequently, but as in nature, they are completely undirected.
In Europe, many people are critical of genetically modified products.
Products labeled as such would probably be sold less than those not labeled as genetically modified.
Numerous experts advocate a fact-based approach to green genetic engineering, most recently the German Nobel Prize winner Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (read the guest article here ).