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Just like other crops, trees can also be genetically modified in order to introduce new, useful characteristics. Although such trees offer many socio-economic and environmental benefits, complex and unpredictable EU procedures are hindering their introduction to the market. This is the conclusion reached by researchers in a joint text drawn up as part of a European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) project about genetically modified trees. The researchers state that Europe is lagging behind in worldwide GM developments and call for a more scientifically substantiated decision process. René Custers, Regulatory & Responsible Research Manager at VIB and Prof. Wout Boerjan (VIB/UGent) contributed to the text.
Genetically modified trees can be used as an efficient raw material for renewable products or bioenergy, which could in turn promote the transition to a sustainable, CO2-neutral economy. However, Europe imposes a comprehensive risk assessment and authorization procedure on the development and use of genetically modified crops.
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Trees have a huge number of interactions with their environment, so an enormous amount of data needs to be collected to draw up a risk analysis. Trees also have a long growth cycle, so study of the long-term consequences through field tests takes a very long time.
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. . . .After the risk analysis and a scientific conclusion from EFSA, it is still by no means certain that a European approval will follow. The fact that individual EU Member States can restrict or prohibit the cultivation of GMOs on their territory. . . further increases this uncertainty.
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Genetically modified poplars are already being planted in China and it looks like the green light will also be given in North and South America.
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