Chinese authorities are following in the footsteps of countries like Japan, Brazil and Argentina and easing regulations on genetically modified food plants. According to Håvard Øritsland Eggestøl of the Norwegian Biotechnology Council, this development means that in future it may be more difficult to import foods that have not been genetically modified.
According to Håvard Øritsland Eggestøl, China’s relaxed measures for GM foods mean that plants that Chinese researchers have been working on for several years can be taken out of the lab and into the field, which may affect Norwegian customers in the long term.
To the media forskning.nohe explains that Norway depends entirely on importing food from other countries.
“It may be difficult in not so many years. One can imagine a situation where genetically modified food plants become more and more common around us, while we remain stricter. This can lead to business disputes,” Håvard Øritsland Eggestøl tells forskning.no.
The change in China does not mean that genetically modified traditional foods have been released. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose DNA has been modified in the laboratory to promote the expression of desired physiological traits or the production of desired biological products and these modified food plants will continue to be regulated quite strictly in China.
What’s now easier is to grow CRISPR-edited cultures, which are plants where researchers have removed parts of the DNA the plant already has or made small changes to it.
One of the plants likely to end up in Chinese fields is a genetically modified wheat plant. It is resistant to a specific fungal disease. Instead of giving the wheat new genes, the Chinese researchers removed certain areas of the DNA, namely the areas that made the plant vulnerable to the harmful fungus.
Researchers still have to seek permission from Chinese authorities, but approval can now happen much faster.
In Norway, on the other hand, genetically modified food plants are not yet close to coming out of the lab, as the country has some of the strictest regulations in the world, says Håvard Øritsland Eggestøl.
In addition to proving that the plant is safe for health and the environment, which is in line with EU rules, the food plant must also contribute to sustainable development, be socially beneficial and ethically sound. So far only one GMO plant has been approved in Norway and it is not a food plant but a blue-purple carnation cut flower.
Recently, however, gender editing has been discussed in the EU.
“Among several member states, France and Sweden have come out in favor of relaxing the rules in the EU. If that happens, it will have consequences for Norway,” says Håvard Øritsland Eggestøl.