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Home Categories Biotech EU Regulations On Biotech In Agriculture

EU Regulations On Biotech In Agriculture

Over the span of centuries, agriculture has evolved enormously, before it reached a state we experience today. However, newer technologies indicate that there is still a place for development and improvement.

Brief History Of Agriculture Development

A brief history of agriculture will show the spectrum of changes in this field. The beginning of agriculture is claimed to be between 30 000 and 10 000 BC, with historians recognizing the hunter-gatherers, small groups, which moved from region to region, looking for food. Between 10 000 and 8, 000 BC the first agricultural revolution started – The Neolithic evolution, which continued to about 400 BC around the world. It involved forms of domestication of plants and animals.

Irrigation Systems And Food Storage Techniques

Furthermore, societies developed irrigation systems and food storage techniques to have a surplus of food. 8 000- 6 000 BC animals were held in herds, dense growth of grasses (e.g. cereals, wheat, rice, oats). Between 1600 and 1800 AD an important change to crop farming has been introduced in Western Europe.

The so-called four-course system was a process of growing different types of crops each year in a four-year cycle, which led to more efficient use of the soil. Early in the 17th-century, chemical fertilizers were researched. Later on, in the 19th century, mechanization of farming began. Plows, reapers fastened the processes in agriculture. During this time the primary awareness of plant diseases rose as well.

The First Genetic Work In Agriculture

The first application of genetic work in agriculture is dated back to the 20th century, which found deployment in growing among other soybeans, wheat, maze, hybrid cotton. There are numerous methods of improving crop development with the use of knowledge in genetics.

Plant Breeding

In traditional plant breeding, selective cross-breeding is obtained by combing genes of two closely related plants. The desired trait of a plant for example sustaining in hard climate conditions is transferred to another plant with other aimed traits. As an effect, we obtain a new variety of plants. Unfortunately, in many of the cases, the process flows in an uncontrolled manner.

This leads to a random combination of traits, on a genetic level impossible to predict, whether the new plant will not have an undesired trait that is of poor quality. A crucial factor for prospering success is the close relatedness between crossed plants. The main effort and length of the process involve separating the wanted traits from those unwanted. Traditional plant breeding is very time consuming, takes from 12 to 15 years to create a new improved crop variety.

Through inducing mutation, new varieties of plants are created as a classical method of breeding. Mutations in plants occur naturally as a result of environmental changes. To prompt mutation, radiation, and chemicals and used as a means to change the plants’ genetic materials.

Different Sets Of DNA For Developing New Plants

A change in pairs of DNA is desired to develop new plants. As this process may produce different sets of DNA, each plant produced has to be evaluated to find the plant with the most improved traitsGenetic engineering is a huge milestone in producing an effectively new variety of plants with the desired traits.

The use of recombinant DNA technology plays a great role here, this process involves taking one or more specific genes from any natural organism to introduce them to another organisms’ genome, so to its whole genetic material.

In agricultural biotechnology, the process is a direct change in the plants’ genome. First, the gene determining the wanted trait has to be identified. Subsequently, it is selected, extracted, and transferred to another plant’s genome. It can be tested at any stage of growth if the gene is present in the genetic material of the plant. It takes about 10 years to result in a new variety of crops through genetic engineering.

Biotechnology In Animal Breeding

Biotechnology in animal breeding has shown improvement in quality in animal agriculture. There are used many techniques in biotechnology: genetic engineering, genetic modification, cloning, transgenetic and recombinant DNA. Furthermore, biological techniques including in vitro fertilization, sex determination, or embryo transfer help to increase the livestock.

A great advantage of biotechnological methods is that they reduce natural allergens and toxins in animal products, which leads to decreasing allergic reactions or forming new allergies. Thanks to those processes meat and milk quality has improved. Conducted research rises hopes that all proteins causing allergic reactions could be removed from food products.

Machine Learning Showing Potential In Agriculture Breeding

Machine learning shows a promising way of application in plant breeding. The processing power in data analysis of machine learning can better grasp the nonlinear interaction between the genotype and the environment of the plant.

Nonlinear, nonparametric machine learning methods are more efficient in this field than classical statistical models, as the large amounts of data are very complex and nondeterministic, which favors the primary approach mentioned. Neural networks, partial least square regression, random forest, support vectors are models in machine learning applicable for plant breeding and in-vitro based biotechnological studies. Plants have multifactorial characteristics.

Machine learning methods are an opportunity for precise agriculture through accurate measurements of plant characteristics and their environment, later the machine learning algorithms enable efficient analysis of the extracted data.

Cellular Agriculture And Its Progress In Advancing Food Products

Cellular agriculture brings a new perspective to the advancement of food products. Cell-based meat is lab-grown meat, comprised of food from animal cells, skeletal muscles, fat and connective tissues. It is genetically identical to the actual meat but followed by a complex structural development process.

Plant cell culture consists mainly of inorganic ingredients such as salts and sugar and some low concentration vitamins. Therefore it is much cheaper than cell-based meat. There is still a place for improvement for these types of foods so that they could imitate the texture and flavor of actual food

Nano-BioTechnology And Its Contribution To Agriculture

Nano-biotechnology contributes to development in agriculture. Some nanoparticles (NPs) are equipped with physicochemical properties that enhance plant growth and stress tolerance. Silver nanoparticles have high activity, therefore, can be used to fight against harmful microbes. They are easy to synthesize, can be made using physical, chemical, and biological methods.

Zinc oxide particles answer the need for zinc deficiency in the soil. They are the best option as they are easily absorbed by plants. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles are used in pigment formation, which leads to enhancement in the growth and photosynthesis of plants. What is more, widely used in agriculture is iron oxide nanoparticle, applied as a replacement for iron fertilizers. Those nanoparticles stimulate growth and production.

The Gap Between The Technology And The Law

Technology has always been a couple of steps ahead of the law. This could have been a serious drag train considering GMOs. Biotechnological crops have been one of the fastest adopted crop technology in the world. However, the notification for confined field trials has dropped, which led to severe criticism of the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) crops.

EU’s Complicated Relationship With GMOs

EU citizens have gradually accepted GMOs in the environment and food. It was measured by the Eurobarometer program of regularly repeated cross-sectional surveys. Therefore it should make the legal processes and commercial cultivation of GMO crops a lot easier.  Scientists argue for a new, evidence-based GMO regulatory framework. Focusing on traits, not processes, could be an enormous catalyzer for innovation and public debate. Then the EU would finally be able to capitalize on plant breeding opportunities by the New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs). 

The Regulatory GM Plant Process

The regulatory process of accepting a new GM plant in the EU involves comparing it to the closest non-GM counterpart before market release. They are ought to be grown in a small-field trial. After that comparative data including occurrences of intended or unintended differences and characteristics or those crop types should be collected.

Before conducting a trial with a GMO, a notification must be sent to the authority of the EU Member State (MS), responsible for the territory, where the release would take place. Then the summary of the notification (SNIF) has to be evaluated by the European Commission (EC), it circulated and is overviewed within the EU SNIF database.

Commerical Cultivation Of GMO Crops

Commercial cultivation of GMO crops was in 2018 only distributed in two EU countries: Spain and Portugal. Farmers in Romania, Czech Republic, and Slovakia have stopped commercial cultivation of GMO crops before 2018, as it was not profitable. The discouraging market, agronomic and regulatory conditions including high agricultural commodity prices, pest pressure, and complicated, lengthy administrative regulations were factors that dismayed from the innovations.

Apart from the restrictive regulatory Directive, political extremists, radical farmers, and „green” activists, vandalism acts on the field trials with GM plants have failed to broaden the commercial cultivation of GM events. Only 0,12% of notifications resulted in commercial cultivation in the EU, this percentage represented only three GM plants. Most of the notifications for field trials were for scientific research purposes only. 

Application Of Biotechnology In Agriculture

The application of biotechnology has the potential to revolutionize agriculture, make it more sustainable, create the possibility to overcome environmental challenges for growing crops, solve the problem of increased food demand. Every country, either developed or developing, could benefit from those biotech inventions.

Although there are huge steps to make the latter possible. Regulatory processes should be made easier, market innovations are ought to be favored, public debate among scientists, health professionals and ethicists shall be raised to overcome misconceptions and spread knowledge instead. Responsible use of biotechnology could enable prosperity for the future generation, saving them from food insecurity and malnutrition.

If you find any mistakes or inaccuracies in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact us via email at info@regtechglobal.com

Emilia Curylo
Having expertise in the field of Economics and IT applications, as well as Water Safety, Emilia has a rich background and writing capabilities. She mostly enjoy writing about technological advancements in Fintech and Biotech.

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