The EU must not de-regulate gene-edited crops and foods
Some members of the outgoing EU Commission and the agbiotech lobby want the regulations governing genetically modified crops and foods relaxed or scrapped to open markets for gene-edited products. But this goes against the science underpinning the technology and could put the public and environment at risk, writes Dr Michael Antoniou.
Dr Michael Antoniou is molecular geneticist at King’s College London
Some members of the outgoing European Commission want to change the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) foods and crops to accommodate the products of new gene-editing techniques, often called “new plant breeding techniques” or NBTs.
Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said DG SANTE “has already prepared the ground for a new initiative on gene editing to overhaul the current GMO legislation”. The “initiative” will be taken up by the new Commission after this year’s elections.
It appears that these Commissioners are supporting a years-long lobbying push by the agbiotech lobby to remove or weaken the usual safeguards applied to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) when it comes to products from new gene-editing techniques.
If the lobby gets its way, gene-edited crops and products could be rushed to market with no safety checks and potentially no labelling.
The trigger for the de-regulation push is last year’s ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that organisms obtained by gene-editing (called in the case “mutagenesis”) techniques are GMOs and fall under the GMO Directive. That means they must be subjected to safety checks and carry a GMO label.
The ruling is in line with the precautionary principle and states that gene-editing techniques do not have a long safety record and may pose similar risks to older-style GM techniques. However, it upset the agbiotech lobby, which sees it as a barrier to business.
As a genetic engineer who uses both old-style gene transfer and new gene-editing tools for medical research, I can confirm that the ECJ ruling is true to science.
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