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Increasingly stringent recommendations by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are hindering the field research needed to develop safe uses of genetically modified (GM) trees, say Steven H. Strauss and colleagues.

The CBD is supported by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which is intended to help governments develop biosafety regulations that take into account both the risks and benefits of GM technology. But the risks receive most attention, say the authors. And the strong anti-GM stance taken by some countries and prominent nongovernmental organisations are influencing CBD recommendations, say the authors.

GM technology could significantly improve trees and there is great need for innovation in the face of climate change. But translating genomic science into safe and useful application requires field studies.

Given the wide range of traits, species and environments being studied, risk assessment for field studies should be made on a case-by-case basis, say the authors. But activism through the CBD is, for the most part, against all forms of genetic modification. Anti-GM campaigners are trying to regulate GM trees out of existence, say the authors. Either directly, or by using the CBD's recommendations to create regulations that are impossible to fulfil.

Regulations that restrict field releases of all transgenes need to be replaced by regulations that recognise different levels of risk, consider potential benefits, and assign an appropriate level of confinement.

Link to full article in Nature Biotechnology