"New techniques murky for organic breeders"

As scientists devise more intricate ways to create new plant cultivars, organic breeders are wary of techniques that cross the line into methods that are “excluded” under regulations.

Genetically engineering crops to incorporate foreign DNA is prohibited in organic production, as is gene deletion or alteration through “editing” technology such as CRISPR.

However, the propriety of some other techniques remains ambiguous in the organic industry, which is complicated by the fact organic farmers have already been unwittingly growing crops developed with such methods.

While organic growers may be urged to “stretch the rules” to incorporate new techniques, the industry should be guided by its basic values such as maintaining the integrity of life and using ecological approaches, said Edith Lammerts van Bueren, a retired plant science professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

“The issues are not just about safety, and that’s what I want to stress,” she said Feb. 16 during the Organic Seed Growers Conference in Corvallis, Ore.

It’s been suggested that organic breeders could still indirectly use new technologies, such as CRISPR, to identify the function of certain genes, she said.

The idea is “tricky” because such identification could assist traditional breeding without directly altering genes, she said.

However, with limited funds for organic research, it’s probably best to avoid dedicating money to a technological direction in which the organic industry doesn’t want to go, Lammerts van Bueren said.

Read more at Capital Press (Mateusz Perkowski)

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