Norway has a history of fierce opposition to transgenic biotechnology (GMOs) dating to the early 2000s. Proposed regulations state that gene-edited organisms without foreign genes do not fulfill the definition of transgenic GMOs and should be regulated as conventional. In 2018, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board proposed a tiered regulatory system in which genetic changes that can arise naturally or can be achieved using conventional breeding methods would be regulated as conventional plants after a notification is submitted to the government. Organisms developed with other within-species genetic changes would require expedited but limited assessment and approval. Genetic changes that cross species barriers (transgenesis) or involve synthetic DNA sequences would require assessment and approval under strict GMO regulations. Although these regulations appear to pave the way for the introduction of gene-edited organisms, the historical, cultural and political suspicion and opposition to biotechnology in general remains among the most intense in Europe, raising questions about whether these relaxed guidelines will lead to any innovation in this sector.
Biotechnology in Norway is regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health. Genetically engineered organisms are regulated by the Gene Technology Act, one of the world’s strictest, which requires that genetically modified products contribute to sustainable development in order to be approved. The Gene Technology Act prohibits cloning animals, although exemptions may be granted for for cloning as part of basic biological and medical research, but only when the purpose is to find new treatments or to prevent disease in people or animals.
- Sterile salmon: The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research used CRISPR to produce sterile salmon, which grow more quickly, are less prone to disease and cannot breed if they escape the facilities.
2018: Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board proposes final recommendations for how GMOs and gene-edited organisms should be regulated, including allowing gene-edited organisms to be regulated as conventional as long as a notification is submitted to the government.
2001: Cartagena Protocol (an international agreement) ratified, which protects the transport and use of organisms modified by biotechnology.
1993: Gene Technology Act finalized, which states products should be ethically justified, sustainable and provide societal benefits.
1992: Bioteknologirådet (Biotechnology Council) established. It has since been a consultative body for the government and parliament on both ethical and environmental concerns related to genetically engineered organisms for import. Bioteknologirådet has developed close relationships with anti-biotech activists and has yet to recommend importing even a single genetically engineered organism.
The original opposition to biotechnology in Norway was spearheaded by the Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology (GenØk) whose purported vision is the safe use biotechnology. In 2006, GenØk obtained status from the coalition government as the National Center for Biosecurity. It produced a series of studies purporting to demonstrate the dangers of insect-resistant Bt corn, which was used as a pretext to suspend the cultivation of Bt corn in Europe, leading to widespread criticism by mainstream scientists. GenØk became tied very closely to the Biotechnology Council, even exchanging board members, in effect blocking all innovation in the agricultural biotechnology sector. GenØk has consistently promoted the work of anti-GMO scientists including the discredited findings of French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini. It also promotes activist documentaries, such as OMG GMO, scathingly criticized by scientists and reviewers.
Many environmental advocacy groups led by a consortium of 18 organizations known as GMO-Nettverket (GMO-Network) are also active detractors of biotechnology in Norway. The organization includes Greenpeace Norway, Friends of the Earth Norway and numerous organic groups The GMO-Network calls for a “precautionary approach to GMOs” and claims they have “adverse effects on the ecological system and cause unacceptable trouble for conventional and organic farming.” Although the group claims that it is “not against GMOs in general,” they maintain there has not been sufficient “research on long-term consequences for the environment and human health”.
- Genetic Literacy Project’sFAQ on gene editing
- A forward-looking regulatory framework for GMO
- Scandinavian perspectives on plant gene technology: applications, policies and progress
- USDA Biotechnology Annual 2020: Sweden and Nordic Countries
- USDA Biotechnology Annual 2011: Norway