The modern techniques for genetic improvement — recombinant DNA, or “genetic modification” (GM) — began to be applied to bacteria and plants 40 years ago. For the first time, molecular biologists could very precisely move genetic material and its traits from one species to another. The resulting new plant varieties have revolutionized agriculture by boosting farmers’ profits and food security in much of the world. But not in Europe.
For more than 20 years, bucking a worldwide scientific consensus, the European Union (EU) has maintained literally nonsensical laws and regulations that focus not on the risk-related characteristics of new plant varieties but on the process — recombinant DNA technology — used to create them. The result is a dysfunctional regulatory system in which there is an inverse relationship between the degree of regulatory scrutiny and the perceived risk of the products. Recombinant DNA-modified plants are regulated into virtual oblivion while new plant varieties crafted with less precise, less predictable techniques are generally unregulated, whatever risk they might pose.