Global fight over GMO regulation rages

CSNN National Page > Global fight over GMO regulation rages

The fight over the future of GMO regulation rages on. On February 7, the European Parliament endorsed a proposal to remove regulation from many gene edited GM (genetically modified) plants. The final decision now rests with the EU Council which is comprised of ministers of member states of the European Union.

Meanwhile, the South African Minister of Agriculture has taken the opposite decision, ensuring government risk assessments for all gene edited GMOs.

Gene editing techniques are tools of genetic modification/genetic engineering. In Europe, they are referred to as New Genomic Techniques or NGTs. The biotechnology industry is lobbying governments around the world to remove government oversight from the introduction of these new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) so that companies can put them on the market without any government safety assessments.

The Canadian government removed pre-market regulation from most gene-edited plants and foods in 2022/2023 but these decisions remain in question as long as Europe and other key trading partners continue to trigger government regulation and labelling.

The EU Parliament voted in favour of deregulation of gene edited plants and foods but, unlike in Canada, it voted to maintain traceability and labelling.

Resistance continues around the world. More information and updates are posted on CBAN’s campaign page

The risks of gene editing

Removing regulation from new gene edited GMOs in Europe is based on incorrect arguments that many gene edited plants are equivalent to plants that are not genetically engineered. Canadian regulators argue that, largely, the presence of “foreign DNA” is what distinguishes GMOs that need regulation from those that do not. These regulatory categories have no scientific basis.

A November 2023 report from the French government’s food safety agency ANSES argues that there is no scientific foundation for the EU deregulation proposals. A second ANSES report is reportedly being blocked from publication by France’s Minister of Agriculture. Read the November ANSES report in English – or Click here to read the report in French. Cliquez ici pour lire le rapport de l’ANSES en français

The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) argues that gene edited plants are in no way equivalent to conventional plants. They say that any GM method, including gene editing, introduces many intended and unintended mutations in the DNA of a plant, resulting in unwanted (side) effects, while conventional breeding and natural evolution only introduce such DNA changes as are required for the plant to adapt to its surroundings and evolve. “Plants cannot be called biologically equivalent on the basis of their DNA sequences only: a plant is defined by more than just DNA.” Read more from ENSSER here.

The European proposal for deregulation is based on the construction of two categories of gene edited (NGT) plants that assume a new GM plant with less than 20 intended genetic modifications of the types described by the European Commission will be safer than a new GM plant with more than 20. However, ENSEER scientists point out that risk does not depend on the number of genetic modifications, but on what they do:

New genomic techniques (NGTs) can achieve deep and far-reaching changes in a plant – radically altering biochemical pathways and composition. The processes cause further unintended changes.” – Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher, biologist and molecular geneticist, ENSSER member.

Any gene manipulation, old or new methods, concentrates on the gene or few genes in question, and thereby fails to select for the many and mostly unknown factors that control how those genes function in vivo.” – Dr. Ulrich Loening, biologist, retired from the University of Edinburgh, ENSSER member.

Click here to read a short new briefing on the risks of gene editing from GMWatch UK.

The German group Testbiotech has published four mini-videos about the risks of gene editing. Click here to watch and share them.

It’s time to redefine what genes do

It’s time to admit that genes are not the blueprint for life” is the title of a book review in the scientific journal Nature: “The view of biology often presented to the public is oversimplified and out of date. Scientists must set the record straight, argues a new book.”

The book How Life Works: A User’s Guide to the New Biology by Philip Ball argues that scientists have been content to espouse the lazy metaphor of living systems operating simply like machines. “So long as we insist that cells are computers and genes are their code,” writes Ball, life might as well be “sprinkled with invisible magic”.