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Beware the Changing Face of Genetic Modification

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

New developments in molecular genetics techniques could pose a serious threat to already inadequate regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). One new technique - oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM) - is one of many examples. It has been recently trademarked as the Rapid Trait Development System (RTDS) by a small agritech company Cibus LLC that has patented the technology and selling it as a natural and non-transgenic technology.

A partnership between Cibus and BASF has led to the development of sulfonylurea herbicide-tolerant GM canola/rapeseed, which has already been considered not genetically modified by a number of government advisory groups. This would mean bypassing GM labelling in the European Union (EU) as well as the GM bans that are currently in place in many EU member states. UK's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) at Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) published a report in 2011 stating:

"ACRE considers that herbicide tolerant (HT) oilseed rape plants produced by Cibus LLC have been developed using a form of mutagenesis. It considers that this technique does not involve the use of recombinant nucleic acid molecules. Consequently, the HT oilseed rape plants could be excluded from the GMO Deliberate Release legislation in accordance with Annex 1B of Directive 2001/18/EC" .

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), as well as equivalent advisory bodies in the US are taking a similar stance, with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) informing Cibus back in 2004 that crops made using ODM would not warrant review.      

Cibus were awarded their first EU patents for the RTDS crop in 2010, which was recently upheld in 2012. They have filed additional patents on RTDS-generated glyphosate-tolerant crops (corn, wheat, rice, barley, soybean, cotton, sugarbeet, oilseed rape, canola, flax, sunflower, potato, tobacco, tomato, alfalfa, poplar, pine, eucalyptus, apple, lettuce, peas, lentils, grape, turf grasses and Brassica sp.), and sulfonylurea herbicide-tolerant canola/rapeseed, with the latter currently being targeted at the EU. The canola/rapeseed crops developed by Cibus and BASF are a further development of BASF's Clearfield crops that were generated through conventional and hybrid breeding to be tolerant to BASF's Cleranda herbicide, which are already grown in the UK. The new RTDS generated crops were aimed for commercialization in 2013, though they do not appear to be on the market just yet.

The RTDS crops are being sold to the public as 'all-natural' 'developed through the process of mutagenesis', a technique exempt from GM legislation and one that has been used since World War II.     
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