Tag Archives: GMOs

Should gene edited crops be exempt from GMO rules?

The European court’s Advocate General has determined that organisms derived by gene editing technologies are exempt from wider EU rules on growing and marketing genetically modified (GM) food.

In a release last week, Advocate General Michel Bobek suggested that the EU’s GMO Directive ‘does not … apply to organisms obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification, such as mutagenesis (‘the mutagenesis exemption’).’

Unlike transgenesis, mutagenesis does not, in principle, entail the insertion of foreign DNA into a living organism. It does, however, involve an alteration of the genome of a living species. The mutagenesis techniques have made it possible to develop seed varieties with elements resistant to a selective herbicide.

Dr Michael Antoniou, the head of the molecular genetics department at King’s College London, said exempting new plant-breeding technologies from GM laws was “wrong and potentially dangerous”.

“None of these gene editing methods are perfect,” he told the Guardian. “They have ‘off target’ effects that can inadvertently disturb the biochemistry of organisms leading to unintended outcomes which – if you’re making a new gene edited food crop, for example – could result in the unexpected production of a new toxin or allergenic substance.”

However, John Brennan, secretary-general of the biotechnology lobby group EuropaBio, said, “The advocate general’s opinion demonstrates that necessary steps are being taken towards clarifying the regulatory status of products that have been developed using the latest biotechnological tools and applications. We trust that the forthcoming ruling will contribute to establishing regulatory clarity.”

The Advocate General’s Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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EU agriculture committee opposes national GM bans

On Thursday 3 September the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament rejected the Commission’s draft law that would give member states the power to restrict or prohibit the use of EU-approved GM food or feed on their territory. It fears that arbitrary national bans could distort competition on the EU’s single market and jeopardise the Union’s food production sectors which are heavily dependent on imports of GM feed.

The agriculture committee’s opinion, adopted by 28 votes in favour to eight against, with six abstentions, will now be scrutinised by the environment committee, which has the lead on this file, before the Parliament as a whole votes on the matter.

“Today’s vote in the agriculture committee sends a clear message: the Commission’s proposal to allow member states to decide whether or not to restrict or ban the use of GM food and feed on their territory must be rejected. We have not been building the EU’s single market to let arbitrary political decisions distort it completely,” said the draftsman of the opinion, Albert Dess (EPP, DE).

“The Commission’s approach is completely unrealistic. We have many sectors in the EU that rely to a great extent on imports of GM feed and would not be able to survive if it is banned. If we allowed this, then all animal food production in the EU would be at stake, which could make us much more dependent on food imports from third countries that do not necessarily respect our high production standards. And we certainly want to avoid this,” he added.

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Scotland to ban GM crops

The Scottish Government has said that it will use a revised approach to the approval of genetically modified crops to request a ban in the country.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said, “Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment – and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status. There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.”

However, the move has been condemned by farming leaders north of the border, particularly as it is at odds with Westminster’s attitude towards GM crops. Scott Walker, NFU Scotland Chief Executive said: “Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland.

“Decisions should be taken on the individual merits of each variety, based on science and determined by whether the variety will deliver overall benefit. These crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture at some point and at the same time protecting the environment which we all cherish in Scotland.

It is unclear whether the ban would apply to scientific and experimental research, but Scotland’s research establishments, including the James Hutton Institute and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health have been at the forefront of researching the technology.

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Swiss to trial GM potato

The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment has given permission for scientists to carry out crop trials involving genetically modified (GM) potatoes which are resistant to late blight at a site at Reckenholz near Zurich.

The Agroscope research centre will be able to start planting the potatoes from late at the end of April and the field experiments should run until 2019 at the latest.

Initially crops will be planted in a 10m x 20m area, which will be extended next year. The risk that GM pollen may spread is much lower among potatoes than for other species, said scientists at Agroscope. The field will still be protected by security guards, fences and cameras after activists destroyed a GM wheat crop being tested at the Zurich site in 2008.

Environmental NGO Greenpeace has publicly criticised the project, saying, “Every centime invested in the development of GM food is a badly invested centime.”

Anti-GM group Coordination Stop OGM added, “Limited research funds shouldn’t be invested in trials that offer no solution for Switzerland.”

The scientists aim to develop potatoes that are resistant to blight, and Dutch researchers have already successfully tested similar potatoes.

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