b'THE RISK CORNER BY: DAVID ZARUKCROPS MATTER:A POLICY MASTERCLASS ON NPBTSL ast year, when the European CourtThe Dutch education system focusesuct-based risk-assessment rather than the of Justice passed a ruling rele- on problem-based learning. These stu- focus on the process. If the traits could be gating most new plant breedingdents saw the problems inherent in theachieved via traditional breeding meth-techniques (NPBTs) to the 2001 GMOEuropean policy system (there was noods, then they would be placed on the Directive (Directive 2001/18/EC), mostworkable definition of NPBTs) and foundpositive list and require only a notifica-hardened Brussels actors threw theira solution. At the same time these stu- tion procedure.hands up in the air and shouted: No,dents are giving the rest of us a master- The students are dumbfounded by not again! Accustomed to the Europeanclass in how to manage poor EU policy. what happened last year with the ECJ Union being the dead-end for innovativedecision. Creating obstacles for these new technologies, most of us responded withbreeding technologies will only lead to scorn, accusations and packed suitcases.less sustainable agriculture. At the same But not everyone gave up. time, the innovative products will still be A group of masters students inimported into Europe and more research-various agricultural programmes iners will be forced to take their research Wageningen University in the Netherlandsskills outside of the European Union. took another, more pedagogical approach.The students areTheir Citizens Initiative is an appeal to They simply asked: How can we changecommon sense; it is an appeal to respon-the 2001 Directive to make it more rele- dumbfounded bysible innovation and scientific progress.vant to the changing technology?Sometimes it takes a fresh look withwhat happenedSUPPORT OUR FUTURE LEADERSoptimistic eyes (terribly lacking in thelast year withThe initiative started in July with 10 stu-battle-scarred Brussels lobbying arena)dents. Given the sensitivity of the subject, to assume the European Commissionthe ECJ decision. they rightly chose to not accept help from does not want bad policy inhibiting goodlarge organisations or corporations. In research. Maybe with the proper incen- October the team grew to 17 students. tive, the bad GMO Directive could beGetting a million signatures divided made fit for purpose (or at least less bad). across all EU countries (including the The students proposed to update theUK) will not be easy and they need the 2001 Directive by providing clarity on thesupport not only from the seed breeding different seed breeding techniques via anresearch community, but all people con-amendment tailoring regulatory require- cerned with innovation and agriculture.ments per technique. On the first anni- In interviewing three of these versary of the ECJ decision, the studentsAN EXEMPTION MECHANISM students during the summer, I was launched the Grow Scientific Progress:The beauty was in the simplicity of theirimpressed by their insights and under-Crops Matter Citizens Initiative. ECI proposal. The group knew they couldstanding, inspired by their optimism and They state: Scientific and technicalnot change the existing GMO Directive,energy and reassured that Europe does innovation have developed to an extentbut they could add a functional amend- have a future in plant breeding research. that requires a revision of the presentment which would provide an exemptionBut they are taking on this ECI challenge Directive, with special regard to newmechanism. The first key element was toby themselves and unlike the activists plant breeding techniques (NPBTs). recognise in the Directive that the tech- with large pan-European networks and Theirmotivationwassimple.niques of mutagenesis based NPBTs aredeep pockets, they can only do so much The European court decision did notnot the same as conventional GMOs andwith energy and a good idea. Please go respect the science available that wouldthe products are different. to https://www.growscientificprogress.make agriculture more sustainable, cli- The amendment would create a pos- org/, sign the ECI and share this initia-mate-friendly, reduce pesticides and fooditive list of safe species-specific traits.tive within your networks and among waste while also helping improve farmingProducts on this list would have no for- your colleagues. and food security in developing countries.eign genetic material or novel traits andThefutureofEuropeanplant These students did not want to do whatwould not require the arduous process ofresearch and agriculture depends on the the previous generation of Europeanauthorisation.success of these young courageous sci-researchers was forced to do: pack a suit- The goal here is to move the approvalentists. case and export their skills. process on NPBTs towards a prod-20IEUROPEAN SEEDIEUROPEAN-SEED.COM'