Jones argues for more legal clarity on genome editing to avoid stifling innovation and investment in the technology in Europe. Genome editing cuts and alters specific existing gene sequences in plants – as opposed to genetic modification, which may result from the insertion of DNA from elsewhere. Potential applications for the technology include food crops with reduced allergenicity or enhanced nutritional quality, as well as plant disease and drought resistance.
“Genome editing has already been established as a powerful tool in research,” Jones wrote in a commentary published in Nature Plantson Thursday. “The extent to which this technology can breathe new life into the world of plant breeding will largely depend on how genome-edited crops are regulated at an international level.”
The United States has indicated that it does not consider genome editing to be the same as genetic modification for regulatory purposes, but the question has yet to be decided in Europe.
Jones told FoodNavigator: "If the EU took a regulatory position that was out of step with the rest of the world it could cause disruption in the trade of commodity crops with obvious negative implications for price and supply."
He said it was appropriate for new crop varieties to be subject to risk assessments using conventional crops for comparison, but the way in which they were developed was not an aspect that should be used to determine their safety.
“Continuing to use the ‘process’ of genetic improvement, rather than the novelty of the product, as the basis for risk assessment and regulation is scientifically illogical and short-sighted,” he wrote.
UK government-funded research body the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has also called for Europe to assess safety of new crop varieties according to their characteristics, rather than the method by which they are produced.
The BBSRC said in a position paper in October: “While it is important to guard against the notion of a simple “technological fix” to the many challenges facing agriculture, it is equally important to reap the benefits of available and emerging technologies where they can contribute effectively.”
Source: Nature Plants
“Regulatory uncertainty over genome editing”
Author: Huw D. Jones