(This is an English translation of the blog post found here)
The Swedish Magazine NyTeknik writes: ”Grow your own bioluminescent plant . Equipment to create plants that glow in the dark can now be ordered through the web”. Researchers at a US university asked through Kickstarter for 420 000 SEK to start selling seeds of thale cress that are luminous, to grow in the garden.
It’s an interesting project, it plans to start sales after the summer, and the article was commented immediately on the net by the signature ”mean”:
”Shall definitely get some seeds. However, there are some strict rules against genetically modified plants in Sweden . Will you have problems with the police if you do the lawn luminous ? ”
Since I conducted field trials with genetically modified plants and probably is the only one that have acquired a permit to grow a genetically modified thale cress in the field in Europe, I must raise a note of caution: Yes, you may get problems but if you ’d still like to try, here’s a How-to-do guide. Because of space limitations, this is the short version, those who want a more detailed description can email me.
This is how you do:
1. You must seek permission from the Board of Agriculture.
2. It costs almost 50 000 SEK to apply for permission and means you have to write about 10 pages of documentation, such as:
– The exact modification made with the plant
– What you have done to make sure that it is exactly what has been done
– How far it is to the nearest nature reserve/national park
– Describe your plan for what to do when emergencies arise
– Risk assessment of risk to human health, animal welfare, and ecosystem
– And some dozen other issues
3. This is sent for consultation to organizations and even governments throughout Europe who may chance to protest (for this reason you also fill in another document, with much the same information, but in English).
4. The public may submit comments, these are typically “Monsanto is behind”, and that they can not understand how the Swedish authorities are so flat against multinational corporations that they can allow this kind of thing because this risks destroying the planet. You have of course the opportunity to respond in writing before the decision is taken.
5. You’ll also have to respond to a lot of additional questions, such as the Agriculture Department will ask.
6. You may be called to the Gene Technology Advisory Board in Stockholm to explain why you want to do this and a much more. It’s pretty interesting and they pay the trip, the only thing you DO NOT have to pay yourself throughout the process. The Gene Technology Advisory Board includes representatives of all parliamentary parties. The Board will vote for or against with high probability for because it obviously is nothing that could be dangerous to you want to grow this plant in your garden. Nevertheless the Green Party (Miljöpartiet) and the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet) representatives will ask a number of critical questions to you, and then they will be writing a reservation against the decision, as the ALWAYS do that.
7. After four to six months, the Board of Agriculture takes a decision and it will probably be positive (assuming you managed to fill in the forms correctly and answered all questions) because they are extremely unlikely to identify a risk to human or animal health or the ecosystem if you were to grow this plant in your garden.
8. Hopefully you remembered to by March 1 of the same year (i e, often long before you get the license) to announce exactly where you intend to plant the plant, so that all beekeepers can adapt to that and move their any beehive that they may have in the vicinity. One might ask why it should be necessary because bees do not visit thale cress since it has no nectar, but that is the way it is.
9. You have to write a letter to the municipality and announce that you will do this.
10. You have to place an ad in the local press to make the public aware of this (and pay for it yourself of course).
11 You are then likely to get a call from a reporter in response to the ad, and then he/she will write in the newspaper about this.
12. You will have to answer to phone calls, emails and blog posts from upset people, which claims that Monsanto is behind etc.
13. A good advice is to arrange an open information meeting advertised in the local newspaper so that the public may have come there to hear you tell why you want to do this, and answer questions about how you can know that this is not dangerous to bees and to their gardens (and again if it is not Monsanto that is behind).
14. When you
to Board of Agriculture have sent:
– A scanned copy of the newspaper page where the ad is (the proof from the newspaperis is not good enough, it can of course be faked)
– A copy of the letter to the local authority
– Instructions (approved by the Board of Agriculture) to all persons who will come into contact with the plants; including much detailed procedures for how the plants will be handled, how to deal with emergency situations etc.
– A map of the exact location of the trial
they will then announce that now you finally can sow your seeds.
15. You must be sure to cover the entire field with insect net so that it would be absolutely impossible for a bee or another insect to collect pollen or nectar from your plants, and then potentially ”contaminate” honey or nature
16. Of course, you have to inspect regularly to ensure that emergency situation has not occurred
17. You will be listed on the website for “Stopping GMOs” (hejdagmo.se)
18. They may on social media discussing that you partnered with Monsanto, and how they should attack your garden.
19. One day, an inspector from the Board of Agriculture will call you up to come for an inspection. You will of course have to pay for that as well but it’s cheaper, often just a few thousand SEK J. But be sure to be there on time, even if you may be on holiday that week
20. If you carefully followed all the care instructions and conditions that the Board of Agriculture set up there should be no problem, then you will after a while receive a letter (with proof of receipt, of course) that everything was in order. Should something not be according to the maintenance instructions, you just risk to be prosecuted under the Environmental Code. I would not think it is too dangerous, those kinds of crimes typically get rather low penalties.
21. When your plant has withered you need to destroy it and make sure that no seeds are behind. You must show how you take care of the plant and the soil in which the seeds may have fallen, you can be of course not just throw it away but without need for example to ensure that it is transported to an incinerator. But remember that this could be considered ”Hazardous goods” and is managed by the “National Board of Rescue”, as if it were for example sulphuric acid. You will of course pay for it too. Perhaps you can instead get permission to burn it myself, but I have not tried it because it’s not so easy to burn soil. You may discuss this with the Board of Agriculture.
22 Then you have to remember to send report to the Board of Agriculture on how the experiment went off, if emergencies arose mm
23. Then you must inspect the site the year after to make sure that the seeds accidentally were left and later germinated. It may even be that the Board of Agriculture inspector comes to check this up too.
24. You can by the way, thank your lucky stars that you live in Sweden, in most other European countries, an application would never be approved. In countries where a permit occasionally is given would perhaps a map of your garden be posted on various websites, perhaps along with an instruction on how those that are planning to destroy your garden will respond in police interviews if they – against all odds – would be arrested for vandalism, in order to escape punishment. But in Sweden there are just occasionally threats – no field trials have actually hitherto been vandalized here, so hopefully yours would be fine as well.
Would anyone else like to grow a plant in his garden he/she must go through the same process, unless you are smart and right from the start writing that you are doing it together – then you only need to pay the costs once! You could not expect an approval that, kind of, for once and for all can explained these plants harmless and therefore to be grown in several locations. While there is such a legal possibility, it’s called ”market approval ” and decided at the EU level, but do not hope too much on it. There is currently only a single variety (a corn variety) which received market approval, and it was a very long time ago. A potato variety was actually approved about 5 years ago – after the application dragging on for almost 15 years – but this was later withdrawn. Right now EU deals with one of the other applications that has been waiting for over a decade.
It is estimated that the cost of getting a market approval may be a few hundred million SEKs. Crowd-funding gave the company with the brilliant thale cress three million (not just 420 000) SEK, corresponding to one per cent of the estimated cost, so it is a start.
And then there are many that believe: If scientists are convinced that it is harmless I do not understand why people are so afraid to go through such a legal framework? This was for example said by a representative of the Swedish society for Nature conservation after a program about GM field trial in the science program “Vetenskapens värld” in Swedish Public service TV on March 17 (listen here).
Excuse me if I sometime get a bit tired…
This is how you would do it if you instead want to grow it indoors, for example in your window
1. Apply to the Board of Agriculture that your house should be a ”facility” to cultivate genetically modified plants. It is much cheaper and cost just a few thousand SEK. You need to provide drawings with all doors, windows, floor drains, emergency exits etc. indicated and describe how the sewer system and ventilation system works. More important , however, is the flooring , probably it will be necessary that you install a “wetroom carpet” (with welded joints on the floor, otherwise it is possible that a seed falls into a floor run. Negoatiate this with the Board of Agriculture. In this case the handling of the Board of Agriculture is much quicker since it has not to be sent widely out for comments etc.
2. When your house has become a ”facility” must could apply for a ”usage”, in your case to grow thale cress that shines. This is also relatively fast and easy, the whole thing might be accomplished in a few weeks, assuming you managed to fill in all the forms correctly
3. Then you need to designate a person – preferably you – to be responsible for security. That means you will have to write detailed instructions for all who will come to reside in the apartment, it is safest to require everyone that should gain access to the apartment to go through a brief training course with the special procedures that apply, and sign a declaration that they have read and understood the regulations
4. Of course must all your doors be locked at any time, and you have to put up signs with ”GM symbol” on the doors showing this is a facility for growing GM plants, who is responsible for operations etc. so that there is no possibility that anyone by accidence gets into the facility without seeing these signs. This is important for you because then you have acquitted yourself from liability if your guests would commit a criminal act, such as to deliberately bring a seed from the cress.
5. Buy a number of shoes/slippers that you and your guests use when you are inside the facility (your home). They obviously could not take them over the door, how careless do you think you could be? If you do not want to buy such shoes an option is to buy the “blue shoecovers” that parents you to take on when they enter a kindergarten, which everyone should take on their shoes when they enter your apartment and throw away (in designated bins) when they leave. A third option would be to put wide strips of tape (that should be changed frequently) on the floor right inside the doors, then you would be able to walk with shoes inside and seeds that were on the soles would get caught on tape as you leave. It’s probably more difficult to arrange if you would like to be in stocking feet indoors, but if you can arrange for you to have a washing machine inside the “facility” and that you throw the socks in the laundry every time you go plan to go out it may be okay.
6. You may also need to get some kind of overalls that you all should take on you as you enter the apartment, and take off when you leave. No need to make it complicated, a simple lab coat will be good enough
7. All waste produced in your facility/home and where it could possible have entered a seed must be handled as described above , I e, shipped to an incinerator. Do not forget to clear out with the National Board of Rescue first so that you have authorization for the transport because it is ”hazardous goods”
8. In this case the Board of Agriculture probably just comes for inspection every five years, which will be much easier and cheaper.
You may think this sounds complicated too, but in comparison with that if you would like to grow it outdoors, it is much easier and most importantly: If the company next year develope a new thale cress that shines a little bit more, you could grow it in your facility without having to do anything extra. If you would like to grow that it in your garden, you have to start the application process over again and go through all the 24 points described above, with about the same problems and the same costs.