Scientists lament attack on Italian gene edited trial crop

Scientists behind the first field trial of gene edited crops in Italy have expressed their shock and sadness at the destruction of the experimental rice plots.

A small area of the variety, called RIS8imo, had been planted in mid-May in the province of Pavia, in northern Italy, to test its ability to counter the fungal disease rice blast without the use of fungicides.

See also: Plant breeders fear gene editing could be “derailed” by election

Just 200 plants were growing in what was the first field trial of its kind in Italy for more than two decades.

But on the night of Friday 21 June, environmental activists accessed the site and destroyed the growing plants.


The two scientists behind the project, Vittoria Brambilla and Fabio Fornara, of the University of Milan, expressed their “bewilderment and sadness” at the “unjustified violence”.

They explained that, unlike genetic modification (GM), the rice plants had been developed using Crispr gene editing technology, which tweaks existing DNA rather than introducing genetic material from another species.

But the field trials were still being conducted under restrictive GM crop trial conditions, because new, more lenient EU legislation for gene edited crops has not been signed off in Brussels.

The scientists insist that accelerating plant improvements with gene editing will lead to far more productive, sustainable and better quality varieties requiring fewer pesticides.

UK response

The development has met with a mixed response in England, where the government last year passed a Precision Breeding Act, paving the way for wider uptake of gene edited crops.

A spokesman for the pro-innovation group Science for Sustainable Agriculture described the destruction of the crops as “shameful”.

“Resorting to violence amounts to an admission by those responsible that they have lost the scientific argument,” he said.

The spokesman also explained that, given the greater freedom to trial gene edited crops in England, there had so far been eight new field trial experiments since March 2022 – “twice as many as the whole of the EU over the same period”.

Campaign group Beyond GM said it did not endorse the trashing of trial crops, but said it was “regrettable when people feel that the only way they can be heard is through destruction”.

Beyond GM director Pat Thomas said: “Whether you call it precision breeding, new genomic techniques or, as they do in Italy, assisted evolution technologies, it is a fact that these crops are genetically engineered and the majority of citizens throughout Europe and in the UK don’t want genetically engineered crops in the farming or food system.

“This unfortunate incident is the inevitable consequence of regulatory processes that are not transparent, kowtow to vested interests, and are designed to ignore public concerns.”

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