The Baden-Württemberg Minister of Science Theresia Bauer (Greens) wanted to spend five million euros on a research program on the use of “genome editing” on plants. But last week Bauer's party colleague and Prime Minister of the country, Winfried Kretschmann, stopped the program.
Now there are a total of 122 researchers in an open letter to Kretschmann “irritated and worried” about the decision. It hurts “both Baden-Württemberg as a science location and Germany massively”.
The independence of science is of immense importance in order to develop evidence-based strategies for sustainable agriculture in the face of global ecological crises, the letter said.
It must be possible to “critically and solution-orientated scope for action” to “to be able to fall back on a wide repertoire of tools and scientific expertise for the challenges of the future”.
Research on genome editing must therefore be permitted “so that potentials and risks can be assessed differently.”
Genome-edited plants could protect the climate
For example, the IPCC Climate Council explicitly includes biotechnological tools to develop climate-friendly agricultural concepts. Genome editing processes such as the Crispr / Cas9 gene scissors could “be an important building block for more sustainable agriculture” by making plants more resistant to “drought, salinization or plant diseases”, the letter to Kretschmann says.
The changes required for this are “indistinguishable from natural and conventional breeding mutations”. An increased risk to humans and the environment is therefore not to be expected.
The researchers, including the director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Detlef Weigel, and one of the pioneers of organic farming Urs Niggli, director of the Swiss Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming Systems, are now calling for to write out the planned research program “and to gain further knowledge about the potential and possible risks of the new breeding methods.”
This is the only way to base a factual and constructive debate that weighs up opportunities and risks in terms of sustainable, productive agriculture.
With science or only if it fits?
The letter, coordinated by the organization “Progressive Agrarwende”, clearly aims to support that part of the Greens who want to make politics based on scientific knowledge – be it on topics such as homeopathy, climate change or the use of modern genetic engineering in plant breeding.
So far, this camp has been in the minority, at least at the federal level of the party. Proposals such as those made by Federal Chairs Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock to discuss genetic engineering issues in the course of the discussion about a new basic program of the Greens have thus far met with fierce criticism.