IFOAM – Organics International Releases a Strategy for Replacing Cell Fusion Cultivars in Organic Value Chains

From a biological point of view cells are the lowest entity of self-organized life, and technological intervention below that level, such as is the case with cell fusion techniques, is not in line with the values of organic agriculture.  Cell fusion technology is used to hybridize plants by removing cell walls from two cells of different species, usually those that would not normally breed under natural conditions, and then merging their contents.  The technology has been used by plant breeders since the 1980s.

The original definition of genetic engineering published by IFOAM - Organics International did not include cell fusion techniques. Social discourse about genetic engineering has been more focused on recombinant DNA than on cellular techniques.  However, a movement within IFOAM - Organics International led it to recognize that cell fusion techniques are indeed a form of genetic engineering and its results are GMOs.

However, on the practical level, a major challenge arose because the decades-long use of this technology for breeding certain crop cultivars means that whole commercial seed supplies are derived from it and there are no or few alternatives.  This problem is especially acute worldwide for many cultivars of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and certain cabbages, and for rapeseed (canola), often leaving farmers without alternative supplies. The supply problem is made more difficult by many seed companies’ lack of transparency about the plant breeding history of their seed products. 

On the hopeful side, alternative plant breeding is developing and motivation to address the problem in organic value chains is rising in some regions of the world.  Several European projects to replace cell fusion cultivars in organic value chains have created useful models. 

Building on these hopeful developments, IFOAM - Organics International has released a global Situation Analysis and Strategy for Replacing Cell Fusion Cultivars in Organic Systems. The strategy recommends the formation of regional action networks to coordinate and drive strategic actions in selected organic value chains, and outlines roles that IFOAM - Organics International can maintain at global level to support the movement.  The strategy includes a list of activities that support the objectives of awareness raising, alternative plant breeding, farmer access to alternatives, consumer acceptance, and revision of organic norms and regulations.

IFOAM - Organics International calls for the formation of regional action networks to replace cell fusion cultivars in organic supply chains and provides this strategy to support movement in this direction.

You can download the paper here. 

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