In view of scientific progress and the knowledge gained as a result, the genetic engineering moratorium can no longer be justified. Much more is known today about the genome of crop plants than 20 years ago. The genome of most crops has been decoded. The decryption methods are constantly becoming cheaper, faster and more precise. With the CRISPR/Cas9 gene scissors, a much more precise method for modifying the genome of plants was also developed. And also the experience of growing such plants has increased around the world. We now know that the cultivation of genetically modified plants poses no danger to humans or the environment. The researcher explains that genome editing is much more targeted than conventional breeding methods, which rely on chemicals or radioactive irradiation of plants (random mutagenesis). It therefore makes sense to regulate genome editing in the same way as mutagenesis, which is legally permitted and also used in organic farming. A simplification of the approval process for new breeds would also allow small start-ups and SMEs to breed with these new methods in the future. In contrast to the genetic engineering of the past, today even an individual can change a variety with the new methods.
Opportunities for practice
Plant breeder and fruit producer Beat Lehner bridges the gap between theory and practice. According to Lehner, breeding is becoming increasingly important. The pressure on crop protection products will remain high. Many funds are withdrawn from the market. Cultivation conditions are becoming more difficult as a result of climate change: "In the future we will need all the building blocks to produce fruit," he says. But the breeding of a new fruit variety takes years to decades. The first fire blight-resistant apple varieties, which were bred because of the severe damage in 2007, are only now coming onto the market - ie 15 years later. The pace at which new and disease-resistant varieties can be brought to market is increasing with genome editing. However, it does not represent the end of classic breeding methods. "But we can react faster and more specifically," says Lehner. It is also very important for the breeder that established standard varieties can be “perfected”. Resistant varieties also lead to fewer rotten fruits and less food waste.