In recent years large agrochemical companies such as Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto and other players have been investing in a suite of risky new genetic modification (GM) techniques, which industry refers to collectively as ‘New Plant Breeding Techniques’. Industry is arguing that these techniques are much more precise than older genetic engineering techniques – or even that they are not really genetic engineering at all – in order to attempt to circumvent regulation and public resistance to GMOs.
Now the GM giants are making a concerted push to have these emergent techniques escape GM laws in the United States, Europe and Australia. Industry is arguing that these techniques – which include oligo-directed mutagenesis (ODM) and site-directed nucleases (SDNs) such as zinc-finger nucleases (ZFN) and CRISPR – only result in small predictable changes to the genome and are therefore much more precise that earlier genetic engineering techniques. Interestingly, this is exactly the same argument they used when GM crops were originally introduced – and is equally untrue for these techniques.
Unfortunately, our regulators – the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) – seem all too ready to allow products derived from these risky new techniques to go untested and unlabelled into our food chain.