As previously noted, GM and TILLING are completely different methods for altering plant DNA. Due to this fundamental difference, the regulatory environment for TILLING-related crops is much less rigid. The more relaxed regulatory atmosphere has allowed for easier integration of TILLING into the agriculture industry. Additionally, environmental organizations such as Greenpeace are less opposed to TILLING than GM methods.
This is not the case, however, in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario-based Health Canada is more strict when it comes to any type of “mutation breeding” or biotechnology, which creates what are characterized as “novel foods.”
Any such processes and the resulting products require a “pre-market food safety assessment,” the first step in a stringent regulatory approval process. The True North also has tighter labeling restrictions than the United States, requiring any type of genetic engineering or modification to be listed on product labels.
Nevertheless, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has been working on its own TILLING project (called “CAN-TILL,” the Canadian TILLING Initiative) for several years, related to the Brassicacace family of plants.
While TILLING could prove a valuable resource for the produce industry by fostering varieties with higher productivity and extended shelf life, GM plants can provide some of the same benefits.
If consumers are looking for a more ‘natural’ process, TILLING, like crossbreeding, fits the bill. Though TILLING is much faster than its predecessor, it is not without risks and requires considerable investment.
Despite the drawbacks, Dr. Beckles believes the benefits of TILLING could be tremendous—from increasing output and productivity, to creating better quality and longer lasting produce, to even reducing waste and environmental costs. For growers, the bottom line is much simpler: higher yields plus superior product equals happy customers.