New genomic techniques & sustainability: where does the public stand?
Today, in the European Union, any product resulting from genetic editing techniques is strictly treated as GMO or genetically modified organism. However New Genetic Techniques (NGT) have emerged in the last years ) such as the recently awarded CRISPR technique (Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020). Several scientists in Europe, many represented by the EU-SAGE initiative (https://www.eu-sage.eu/), are asking for a new policy framework for GMOs that reflects the nuances of its biology and its diverse applications. For this reason, in April 2021 a study commissioned by the European Commission proposed a revision of the related policy.
NGTs represent a peculiar topic in which different stakeholder groups— companies in the seed industry, representatives of farmers’ interests or of organic producers, and non-governmental associations—tend to bring their own classification criteria to challenge the inclusion or exclusion of certain products from the scope of legislation. The discussion on the classification of the new breeding techniques has not yet surfaced to the public; but, if the legislation needs to rely on such classification, the public opinion on the topic is extremely significant in the discussion, as they represent the final consumers.
New frames to present and discuss genetic engineering and synthetic biology applied to agriculture are needed to better assess the public opinion on such topics and discern their concern on the technology itself to the ones related to the application of the technology. For example, could informing consumers about the role of this technology in addressing the sustainability and crop-protection lead them to better accept its application in agriculture? Indeed, several applications in the agri-food system are expected in the upcoming years as NGT are an important alley in reducing the environmental impact of agricultural production.