We have compiled some frequently asked questions and answers for all interested parties. Should you not find an answer to your question, please contact us.
Frequently asked questions
You mainly mention crops. What happens to animals or bacteria?
Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs covers all organisms except for humans whose genetic material has been modified. This means, also animals and bacteria fall into the scope. If the new annex is introduced, also their release into the environment will be governed by the regime established in the additional Annex we propose.
What do you personally gain from this?
We are all young EU citizens, with long futures ahead. As such, we are concerned about challenges that will face us in the future, such as climate change and food insecurity. We choose to actively contribute to responsible scientific progress in the EU to tackle these challenges. Thus, we, and other generations, will profit from a legal framework that will result in more nutritious, safer and more resilient crops.
Who sponsors you?
How did you meet and how did this start?
It all started in Wageningen, the Netherlands. Some of us chose to analyse the debate around the European Court of Justice Ruling of last year in the scope of a course assignment. We explored different opinions and conducted some interviews, from which we concluded that the current legal situation is not reasonable in the long term. We found the topic so captivating that we started talking to other friends outside of the course. Together we decided to turn words into actions and launch a European Citizens' Initiative to demand a better legislative framework.
Where can I find the detailed proposal?
You can find our proposal here on the Commission website.
What is the aim of your initiative?
Our initiative serves many purposes.
First off, we aim to add a sense of urgency to update the current legislation, which has not been kept up to date with the scientific advancements of the past decades. In light of climate change and prospected food insecurity, we believe that limited time is available to start acting more sustainably. The legislative procedures to update legislation are also quite slow, which is why it is important not to lose time before these problems become too urgent.
Furthermore, by submitting a European Citizens’ Initiative we want to involve the general public in the debate. We believe that the future of agriculture and our food in the EU concerns all of us - and it seems worthwhile to promote a science-based instead of a fear-based approach in the discussion.
Lastly, we wanted to provide a concrete suggestion for a meaningful governance of NBTs in the EU. However, it seems worthwhile to mention that we do not see our approach as the "only and best" one to achieve a feasible update of the legislation. Instead, we believe that the combined efforts of different initiatives will ultimately lead to success – and we want to contribute to this as best as we can.
How can I become a sponsor?
How can I join the initiative?
If you are interested in joining our initiative, we are always happy to strengthen our team and expand our network. In particular, we need help in spreading the word and engaging the public in an informed debate. Please contact us and we will be happy to find common grounds.
What are advantages of using these new techniques instead of conventional breeding techniques?
How can I imagine the new techniques – step by step?
Several techniques have been developed over the past years. With these techniques, very precise modifications of the genetic material are possible. There are a number of techniques which are mainly based on the introduction of targeted breaks (or cuts) in the genetic material (or DNA) of an organism (like a crop or bacteria). These breaks are then repaired by the organism’s own repair mechanism. This is error-prone, which means it is easy to induce a mutation in the genetic material, and thus enhance or switch off a trait in a plant.
Some techniques introduce these breaks with a system which is naturally present in bacteria, called CRISPR/Cas. Simply put, this is a machinery which knows the exact location of where the break should occur, and breaks the DNA only in this location.
Other techniques involve other machinery types, but the principle stays the same. We encourage you to read through the EFSA paper on these techniques.
What is the difference between these novel techniques (NBTs) and traditional GMOs?
It is important to note that NBTs constitute techniques, while a traditional GMO is a product.
Traditional GMOs are organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way which could not have occurred naturally. These traditional GMOs could contain pieces of DNA from organisms with which they could not have reproduced. They could also be the result of deleting or duplicating the organism's own DNA, resulting in traits that are undescribed for that species.
Changes that could have occurred naturally, without human intervention, include mutations. Mutations are a natural phenomenon and occur in all living cells, even yours. Mutations are the reason for the great biodiversity we have on Earth, and they are the drivers of evolution. Some breeding methods, including conventional mutagenesis, rely on inducing mutations in the DNA. Conventional mutagenesis means that these mutations are randomly induced through the treatment with chemicals or radiation. After such a treatment, many mutations are found in the DNA of an organism. Breeders will then pick out the organisms that show the desired traits, for example plants whose fruits are bigger.
NBTs can be used to make both traditional GMOs or to insert small mutations, just like the ones induced by traditional mutagenesis described in the paragraph above. The difference between conventional mutagenesis and NBTs, is that the latter is more accurate and can be used to only create one desired mutation without the many undesired mutations produced by conventional mutagenesis. Both mutations induced by conventional mutagenesis and mutations induced by NBTs are indistinguishable from mutations occurring naturally. Neither procedure leads to any extra unnatural material being left over in the resulting organism.
To sum this up, NBTs result in either traditional GMOs or crops which resemble naturally occurring plants. We therefore find it necessary to distinguish between these two outcomes to ensure a more logical and proportionate regulation.
How can NPBT contribute to a more sustainable agriculture?
These techniques can make it easier and faster for a breeder to optimize a crop variety, so that it is for example more climate and pest resilient. For instance, a crop may be created which is resistant to fungal diseases, and thus less toxic chemicals will be sprayed into the environment. A crop may also be optimized to require less nutrient input and thus help unburden European soils, which are heavily overloaded with agricultural fertilizers that enters the groundwater. These are just three out of many possibilities – and all of these may contribute to more sustainable agriculture.
How many signatures do you need per country?
We will need 1 million signatures in total. The signatories must come from at least a quarter of all member states, and reach the minimum number of signatures for at least a quarter of all member states. The exact numbers are shown in the diagram below (from Regulation (EU) 211/2011). We will provide a frequent update on how many signatures we have reached yet on through Twitter.
What happens when you have reached the signatures?
If we manage to gain enough supporters, we will submit the initiative to the Commission
Do signatures from UK citizens count in light of Brexit this year?
Yes, signatories from the UK are more than welcome until the prospected withdrawal date (currently: November 1st 2019). All those signatures will count towards the 1 million we need. However, after the prospected withdrawal date, or after the signing of a Withdrawal Agreement, we can no longer accept further signatures from UK citizens.