Unleashing scientific progress in new genomic technologies

Heidi Boersma is a Dutch investigative journalist and member of the environmental association WePlanet. His letter was signed by 33 Nobel laureates and more than 700 scientists. They advocate new genomic technologies.

Heidi Boersma

In these times of climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and renewed food insecurity, an evidence-based, scientific approach is essential in all respects. Now, more than ever, we must rise above ideology and dogmatism. We therefore urge the European Parliament to highlight the benefits of new genomic technologies (NGTs) in an important vote scheduled in the coming weeks (on 24 January in the ENVI Committee and on 5 February in plenary).

As concerned citizens who believe in the power of science to improve our lives and our relationship with the planet, we urge the European Parliament to vote in favor of NGTs and thus align its decisions with advances in scientific understanding. Traditional breeding of climate-resistant crops (with hybridization for specific traits, subsequent selection and backcrossing to remove undesirable traits) is extremely time consuming. It takes years, even decades. We don’t have that time in the age of climate crisis.

There are also many plants that are very difficult to propagate by traditional means due to their specific genetic characteristics, such as fruit trees, grape vines or potatoes. Moreover, these crops need the greatest amount of harmful pesticides to protect them from diseases and pests. As with climate resilience, unconventional technologies can greatly improve this situation by making crops resistant to diseases through precise, targeted modifications to their genetic code.

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This makes Europe’s ambitious but essential goals to reduce pesticide use achievable, while better protecting farmers’ crops. It is not surprising, then, that many European farmers – including a growing number of organic producers – are enthusiastic supporters of LNG.

Huge promise

Therefore, rapid, targeted and useful breeding methods should be added to the plant breeder’s toolbox. The NGT Mills Regulation Bill is therefore an important step that we support in our mission to improve environmental sustainability in the areas of food, agriculture and energy. The responsible use of NGTs that this legislation could unlock could contribute significantly to our collective quest for a resilient, environmentally responsible, and food secure future.

NGTs hold great promise for sustainable agriculture, improved food security and innovative medical solutions. But it also provides new job opportunities and economic prosperity. A recent report shows that a ban on NGTs could cost the European economy €300 billion a year in “lost benefits” across various sectors. This is what rejecting scientific progress can cost us.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, encourage MEPs to enter into dialogue with the vast majority of farmers and real experts, and not with the anti-science lobbies in the Brussels bubble. We ask the European Parliament to consider the unambiguous body of scientific evidence on invasive gases and make decisions that are in the best interests of the European Union and its citizens.

Supporting non-traditional technologies will not only foster innovation, but will also position the EU as a leader in responsible, evidence-based policy making around the world. Leaders in Africa, for example, are closely watching what the European Union decides, as are African scientists whose cassava, banana, maize and other staple crops are resilient to climate change.

We are confident that the EU Parliament can reject anti-science fear-mongering and instead embrace prosperity and progress.

The signatories include: Emmanuelle Charpentier, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Jennifer Doudna, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard University; Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University + More than 30 Nobel laureates and over 600 scientists from all over Europe. For the full list of sites see https://www.weplanetbelgium.org/nl/openbriefngt

Megan Vasquez

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