Jul 31, 2018
European court rules gene editing equals GMO

 The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that crops created using gene editing techniques will be considered as genetically modified organisms under their regulations.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a statement saying the ECJ ruling is a setback in that it narrowly considers newer genome editing methods to be within the scope of the European Union’s “regressive and outdated” regulations governing genetically modified organisms.

“Government policies should encourage scientific innovation without creating unnecessary barriers or unjustifiably stigmatizing new technologies,” he said.

Specifically, the ruling said that organisms obtained by mutagenesis, also known as gene editing, in a way that does not occur naturally are considered GMOs.

This means that organisms created through techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 that don’t insert genes from other organisms but rather turn genes on or off, will be considered GMO.

However, it doesn’t seem the implications of the ruling are cut and dried. The language of the decision includes an exception.

“The Court states, however, that it is apparent from the GMO Directive that it does not apply to organisms obtained by means of certain mutagenesis techniques, namely those which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record,” the ruling said.

Further complicating matters, the ruling said that European member states can subject even these products with a long track record of safety to the regulations of the GMO rule if they want to.

Forbes characterized the decision with the headline “EU Court Tries, But Fails, To Clarify Rules On GMOs And CRISPR”

“Disappointingly, this decision is likely to further confuse rather than clarify this complex and contentious issue,” wrote Forbes contributor Steven Salzberg.

The New York Times’ coverage also highlighted the confusion caused by the ruling’s language. The paper wrote that in saying crops produced through older methods of altering DNA are not GMO, the exemption left many scientists scratching their heads.

“I don’t know why they are doing that,” said Jennifer Kuzma, an expert in genetic engineering at North Carolina State University to the New York Times. “I was thinking, ‘Do they have the right science advice?’”

In the USDA’s release, Perdue said the U.S. encourages the European Union to seek input from the scientific and agricultural communities, as well as its trading partners, in determining the appropriate implementation of the ruling

“The global regulatory treatment of genome-edited agricultural products has strategic innovation and trade implications for U.S. agriculture,” he said. “For this reason, USDA has clear science- and risk-based policies that enable needed innovation while continuing to ensure these products are safe. In light of the ECJ ruling, USDA will re-double its efforts to work with partners globally towards science- and risk-based regulatory approaches.”

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