In China, the US and Sweden, new methods of genetic engineering such as CRISPR are being used on forest trees. The first field trials are planned to take place in Sweden with genetically engineered poplars that show a range of genetic changes in their genome that affect flowering, growth, production of branches, leafs and roots. The goal of this type of engineering is to drastically change the phenotype and characteristics of the trees, without any specific purpose being provided. The poplars are genetically manipulated using various methods of genetic engineering, including the so-called CRISPR technique, which is said to ease deletion and insertion of DNA.
The biotech industry is pushing for plants and animals manipulated with the new methods such as CRISPR, to be released and marketed without being subjected to regulations for genetically engineered organisms. However, legal dossiers published in 2015 show that these methods should clearly be considered to be genetic engineering, and plants and animals produced in this way should therefore also have to undergo risk assessment and labeling. So far, the EU Commission has failed to give any clear guidance on the import and release of the respective plants and animals.
“Due to the inactivity of the EU Commission, we are at risk of losing control of the import and release of genetically engineered organisms. Indeed, the uncontrolled import of genetically engineered plants and animals from the US and China might already be a reality. Furthermore, companies or research institutions might feel encouraged to release or sell such organisms, without any authorization in the EU,” Christoph Then says for Testbiotech. “Especially genetically engineered forest trees, which can spread their artificial DNA into sensitive ecosystems, pose a great risk to biodiversity.”