consultation in England on gene editing, to revisit European regulation banning its use.he UK government has launched a
Nobel prize winning methods could be applied to accelerate natural selection in crop and animal breeding as a result. This could reduce antibiotics, hormones and harmful chemicals in the food system and boost production.
Sir David Baulcombe, Regius Professor of Botany in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, said yesterday, “The overwhelming view [of] public sector scientists is that the Nobel Prize winning methods can accelerate sustainable, productive and profitable agriculture.”
The consultation will also gather evidence on future controls over genetic modification, leading campaigning environmental groups to question whether potentially dangerous “frankenfood” could be introduced under the cover of this move.
The UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has a well-established view that organisms produced by gene editing (GE) should not be regulated as genetically modified (GMOs).
Gene editing is different to genetic modification (GM), in which DNA from one species is introduced to a different one. Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from a different species, and only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods.
“Overregulation may obstruct use of new plant breeding technologies”
Technologies developed in the last decade allow genes to be edited quickly and precisely to mimic the natural breeding process.
A 2018 ruling in the European Court of Justice led to gene editing being regulated in the same way as genetic modification. However, the UK’s break from Europe now allows this regulation to be revisited.
Professor Robin May, the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Chief Scientific Advisor, said, “There are strict controls on GM crops, seeds and food which the FSA will continue to apply moving forward.
“As with all novel foods, GE foods will only be permitted if they [do] not present a health risk, mislead consumers, or have lower nutritional value than existing equivalent foods.”
The creators of the first gene editing tool, known as Crispr-Cas9 “genetic scissors” are Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery in 2020.
Academics have been urging EU regulators to revisit their decision of 2018, as the new gene-editing technology became available.
“Japan has approved gene-edited tomatoes that lower blood pressure”
A report published last year by German academic, Matin Qaim, called on regulatory reforms for gene edited crops. His report is titled Role of New Plant Breeding Technologies for Food Security and Sustainable Agricultural Development.
“While the science is exciting and some clear benefits are already observable, overregulation and public misperceptions may obstruct the development and use of new plant breeding technologies,” Qaim said.
Karla Canavan, an international agri-business veteran, told Quota, “Gene editing only changes some traits and can bring incredible results. The key to me is the timing.
“We are over-using resources at such a pace that we need two planets rather than one. We need to keep land productive and stop the degradation tipping point in landscapes and waterscapes.”
Examples of gene edited crops in their final stage of research include virus resistant banana and cassava, maize, soybean, wheat and rice. In Africa, research labs successfully removed banana streak virus in plantains.
Matin Quaim says gene-editing technology could “contribute to more diversity and competition in seed markets.” As GE is low cost, it could be a disrupter, allowing smaller labs and companies to apply it. GMOs have faced a backlash due to the select number of biotech companies dominating the market.
“Gene-edited orphan crops could support food security in Africa”
New regulations have allowed GE in a number of Latin American countries, Australia, the US and Japan.
Japan has recently approved gene-edited tomatoes for consumption which contain higher levels of amino acids and lowers blood pressure.
Meanwhile, African countries have resisted the regulation of gene edited technologies because of Europe’s influence. If the European Union revisited legislation it could help developing countries address food insecurity.
Karla Canavan says, “There are many orphan crops in Africa that could bring biodiversity to the soil and to the diet. They are losing ground to typical staples brought by colonialism like rice and corn.” Gene-edited orphan crops that are highly nutritious and climate resilient could benefit from disease resistant traits and higher yielding properties.