The United States joined 12 other nations to encourage policies to enable continued agricultural innovation, including genome editing. Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Vietnam were among the countries issuing support of the International Statement on Agricultural Applications of Precision Biotechnology. Noticeably absent from the joint statement of support was the European Union (EU).
The Court of Justice of the EU recently declared that genome editing will be classified the same as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and thus subject to the same stringent regulations. The court’s decision will significantly curb continued investment and research into the area of genome editing in Europe.
“Ideally, or in theory, regulations are meant to be in place to address risk. And so the more risk, the more regulation and the less risk the less regulation,” said Alison Van Eenennaam, Animal Genomics and Biotechnology Specialist at UC Davis. “But in this case, it’s just regulation triggered by a particular process irrespective of the risk of the product.”
The ruling will mean plants created through gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR will be required to go through a regulatory process that can cost upwards of $35 million, much to the dismay of many researchers in the EU. “The regulations are not proportional to product risk at all, they’re triggered entirely by the use of a particular technology, in this case, genome editing, which has nothing to do with product risk whatsoever,” Van Eenennaam noted.
The statement that was issued at the World Trade Organization Committee on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures reads in part: “Agricultural innovation has played an essential role in increasing yields and productivity in support of growing, prosperous civilizations. Innovations in precision biotechnology, such as gene editing, have brought the promise of major improvements in terms of the ease and precision of introducing desirable traits into agricultural organisms, as compared to other breeding methods.”