Norway has a history of fierce opposition to transgenic crop biotechnology (GMOs) dating to the early 2000s. Proposed regulations state that gene-edited crops without foreign genes do not fulfill the definition of transgenic GMOs and should be regulated as conventional crops. 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. Crops 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 crops, the historical, cultural and political suspicion and opposition to crop 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. The Directorate for Nature Management is responsible for feed and seed and Norwegian Food Safety Authority is responsible for biotech food. Genetically engineered food is regulated by the Matloven Food Act and 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.
So far, the Food Safety Authority has not approved any genetically engineered crops in food or feed. It has, however, granted the fishing industry an exemption from GMO-related permit requirements. All products containing GMOs require a label.
2018: Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board proposes final recommendations for how GMOs and gene-edited organisms should be regulated, including allowing gene-edited crops to be regulated as conventional as long as a notification is submitted to the government.
2003: Matloven Food Act finalized, which requires GMO food to be labelled.
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 crops for import. Bioteknologirådet has developed close relationships with anti-biotech activists and has yet to recommend importing even a single genetically engineered food crop.
The original opposition to crop 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 crop 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