Plant Biotechnology

UKPSF position statement on plant biotechnology


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The UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF) is a Special Interest Group of the Royal Society of Biology, bringing together 30 member organisations from across the breadth of plant sciences in the UK to provide one voice for the UK plant science community and create a coordinated approach to research, industry, education and outreach.

This document presents the position of the UKPSF on research into and use of plant biotechnologies1.

  • The UKPSF recognizes that global population growth, limitations in land and other natural resources, and climate change present significant challenges as we attempt to satisfy global demand for food, energy and bio-products, and also provide the protection of biodiversity and the environment that are essential for sustainability. We believe that plant science research and plant biotechnologies are essential tools in the development of improved plant varieties and associated cultivation practices to address these challenges.
  • The UKPSF considers that every possible approach to crop improvement should be investigated, and we advocate research into all plant biotechnologies that offer realistic potential for economic, environmental, health and societal benefits.
  • The UKPSF regards the safeguarding of the environment and human health to be of primary importance. We advocate the use of evidence-based approaches to evaluating biotechnologies thoroughly, to assess their potential risks and benefits in comparison with alternative options.
  • The UKPSF recognizes that different challenges will be best addressed by different technologies and that genetic modification (GM) may offer a solution to some problems that other breeding methods or changes in agricultural practice are unable to solve within a suitable timeframe. It is important therefore that GM technology should be available as one of the tools alongside all other options for crop improvement.
  • The UKPSF recommends that the regulatory approvals process for new varieties should be proportionate to the risks and should provide an enabling framework to encourage innovation and investment in Europe2.
  • The UKPSF encourages ongoing communication between scientists, government and the public to improve awareness and decision making over the development and use of plant biotechnologies. We strongly advocate access to scientific evidence and opportunities to debate its implications, particularly in relation to the sustainability challenges that plant biotechnologies can help to address.

Updated 20 July 2015



1. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defined biotechnology as "any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."

2. We are aware of an increasing number of novel plant breeding techniques that do not result in varieties containing foreign genes - either because any foreign DNA is removed from the end product* or because only genes from the same species are introduced**. Most of these techniques result in plants that are genetically indistinguishable from varieties produced by conventional breeding methods, and reports by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have both concluded that in such cases no novel hazards are expected to be associated with them.

* e.g. reverse breeding, accelerated breeding, zinc finger nuclease technology, RNA-dependent DNA methylation, virus induced gene silencing (VIGS) and agro-infiltration Lusser, M et al. Nature Biotechnology 30, 231–239 (2012); Schaart, J.G. & Visser, R.G.F. COGEM Research Report Number 2009–02 (2009).

** e.g. cisgenesis, intragenesis and oligonucleotide directed mutagenesis. Lusser, M et al. Nature Biotechnology 30, 231–239 (2012); Schaart, J.G. & Visser, R.G.F. COGEM Research Report Number 2009–02 (2009).