European scientists call for a review of the European Union legislation on genome-edited cropsScientists from 120 European research institutions support an open statement exposing that crops created using gene-editing techniques should not be treated as conventional genetically modified plants
Coinciding with the first anniversary of the resolution of case C-528/16 by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), the European plant science community has released an Open Statement reaching out to the newly elected European Parliament and European Commission to enable the use of new genome editing techniques to achieve a more sustainable agriculture, in line with the UN sustainable development goals.
Behind this discord is the genome editing technique CRISPR-Cas, whose developers, researchers Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, received the Spanish Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research in 2015. CRISPR-Cas technology allows modifying the genes with great precision and ease, opening a wide range of possibilities with applications both in the fields of medicine and plant breeding. Francisco Juan Martínez Mojica, professor at the University of Alicante and discoverer of the CRISPR sequences in nature, is among the signatories of the Open Statement.
Researchers around the world are already using the CRISPR-Cas system to carry out targeted modifications on species of agronomic interest in a faster, relatively simple and much more directed way compared to previous plant breeding techniques such as random mutagenesis. As with conventional breeding techniques, the objective of researchers using CRISPR-Cas is to introduce mutations that confer advantageous characteristics to the plant, such as resistance to plant pathogens or to drought, or the improvement of the organoleptic characteristics of fruits.
“On the other hand, the resulting plants cannot be distinguished in any way from a plant obtained by conventional breeding techniques -like most found in the market today-, and even some of the mutations introduced could occur naturally without human intervention, so the current legislation, which requires presenting a specific method to detect them, will be hardly applicable.”, explains José Luis Riechmann, ICREA researcher and director of CRAG.
However, the ECJ decided a year ago that plants obtained through genome editing techniques should be considered as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), and, consequently, go through a laborious and expensive process before being approved for cultivation in Europe.
In the Open Statement enclosed in this page, the plant scientific community raises its voice to underline that the ECJ resolution does not reflect the current state of scientific knowledge, and that it will also slow down progress towards a more sustainable agriculture that produces high yields using less chemicals and water. The fact that other countries do not consider edited plants as GMOs will also put European agriculture at a disadvantage.