Ethical and societal aspects of cisgenesis

Policy reports | 06.07.2006 | 060706-03

The societal debate on the application of genetic modification in agriculture has contributed to stimulating new developments in biotechnology.Cisgenesis is one example. In cisgenesis a plant is modified with coding DNA sequences derived from the species itself or from crossable species. With the term “cisgenic” it is indicated that one does not exceed the boundary of crossable species, meaning that the cisgenic end-product only contains genes that could also be crossed in via classic breeding. By keeping within the crossing boundaries one hopes to remove specific ethical objections as well as objections based on safety concerns. In an earlier technical-scientific advisory report, COGEM has mapped the risks of cisgenic crops for human beings and the environment. Based on this inventory, possible options for relaxing the regulation in the case of cisgenic crops were discussed.
In this report, COGEM addresses ethical and societal aspects of cisgenesis. If certain conditions are met, COGEM believes there are concrete possibilities in relation to cisgenesis for a simplified authorization procedure in restricted use and market introductions. COGEM does not expect, however, that cisgenesis will automatically be considered an acceptable form of genetic modification by all parties. Such acceptance will depend on the views those involved have on general normative issues such as the integrity of nature and the application of biotechnology in agriculture and food production, as well as on how the technique is developed and presented to society. It is also unknown how citizens and consumers in the Netherlands will actually perceive cisgenesis. In the development and implementation of regulation pertaining to cisgenesis COGEM recommends the use of interactive methods of policy design, whereby the various interested parties can articulate their views.

Because authorization involving release into the environment of GM crops takes place at the European level, possible exemption or relaxation of the regulation for cisgenesis will have to be supported by all member states. COGEM therefore advises the Ministry of VROM in this respect to start off on a national trajectory that runs parallel to the European trajectory.

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