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34 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM Joure exports seed potatoes to more than 80 countries. Graveland sees major benefits from this technology but so far HZPC is only apply- ing it in a research project it is definitely not using cisgenesis in breeding new varieties. After all the companys website has a clear non-GMO statement stating that all the varieties it supplies were developed without the use of genetic modification. Our custom- ers want us to state our position clearly says Graveland. This shows how the potato sector views genetic modification and as long as cisgenesis is seen as a form of genetic mod- ification that method will not be an inter- esting option for plant breeding companies. Companies are also saying that the approval criteria are currently preventing them from using cisgenesis says Van Oers. Because the technology is classified as a GMO technique field trials and risk assessments are needed before a cisgenic variety can be brought on the market. We hope that the outcome of an anal- ysis by the European Commission will help in that regard. The Commission is working on a judicial investigation of the application of leg- islation to new breeding techniques. That may lead to a new classification for cisgenesis with less stringent procedures than for other GMOs. In 2012 the European Food Safety Authority EFSA already concluded that the risks run by consumers from cisgenic plant varieties are comparable to those from plants produced by traditional plant breeding. But early this year a coalition of European environmental and consumer organisations including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth published an open letter calling on the European Commission not to make an excep- tion for cisgenesis. They consider the risks to be higher and think that these crops should continue to be subject to the same tests and labelling requirements. Opponents have said for a while that inserting genes from the same species can still have similar unexpected and unpredictable effects to the effects from modification using genes from a different species. An inserted gene ends up in a random position in the plants genetic material and can therefore inadvert- ently disrupt processes which could lead to the creation of toxic or allergic substances. It is therefore open to question whether an end will soon come to the debate on the assessment of cisgenesis which has been going on for years. LAUNCHING NEW VARIETIES We really need a European ruling like this we cant start doing our sums until we have it says Graveland from the potato breeding com- pany HZPC. If there is no change in the regu- lations and you are required to build up dossier with field tests and risk assessments that will make things very difficult. Then launching a cisgenic potato variety will take 10 years and cost tens of millions of euros. We could never recoup that investment. So our decision as a company on whether to add cisgenesis to our suite of techniques depends crucially on what the EU decides. Graveland has been a member of the DuRPh supervisory committee since 2006. He says that the project has already produced a great deal of knowledge that can be put into practice in potato breeding practice quite apart from cisgenesis. Thanks to this research plant breeders now know how best to combine resist- ance genes. Now they can use DNA screening to select parent plants according to their genetic profiles and then cross-breed them. In this way varieties can be produced with new Phytophthora resistance genes using conven- tional breeding methods. According to Van Oers this application is where DuRPh has added value for organic farming too. Genetic know-how from the pro- ject helps plant breeding regardless of whether cisgenesis is used. There is more than one way of achieving the same end result. The nice thing was that the organic sector had exten- sive contact with the research on resistance to Phytophthora. Although conventional breeding methods can also produce resistance to Phytophthora that route takes longer about 10 to 15 years says Graveland. Cisgenesis offers another advantage to plant breeding companies aiming to corner the conservative potato market. Potato growers and food processing companies such as the manufacturers of French fries and potato chips are used to potato varieties that produce tubers with a known shape starch composition and frying properties. They are therefore not keen on switching to a new vari- ety. If you use cisgenesis you are only alter- ing the resistance all those familiar varietal China is the largest potato producer on the planet growing nearly a quarter of the total global production. After wheat rice and corn the potato is the fourth largest food crop for human consumption in terms of produced tonnes. POLAND 9.1 CHINA 95.9 UKRAINE 22.3 RUSSIA 30.2 UNITED STATES 19.8 BANGLADESH 8.2INDIA 45.3 NETHERLANDS 6.8 GERMANY 10.7 GLOBAL POTATO CULTIVATION FRANCE 6.3 Source FAOSTAT data 2015 Genetic know-how from the project helps plant breeding regardless of whether cisgenesis is used. There is more than one way of achieving the same end result. TANJA VAN OERS