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European scientists unite to safeguard gene-editing for crops

Leading researchers representing more than 75 European plant and life sciences research centres and institutes have endorsed a position paper that urgently calls upon European policy makers to safeguard gene-editing technologies in plant science and agriculture. 


Marianne   Curtis

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Marianne   Curtis
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The scientists, including those from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich are deeply concerned about a recent European Court of Justice ruling concerning modern genome editing techniques that could lead to a de facto ban of innovative crop breeding.

 

The position paper argues the European farmers may be deprived of a new generation of more climate resilient and nutritious crop varieties that are urgently needed to respond to current ecological and societal challenges.

 

The joint document follows an outpouring of concerned statements of European research institutes over the recent months following the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruling under which genome edited organisms must comply with strict EU Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) legislation.

 

Today’s position paper is evidence of a solid consensus among the academic life science research community in Europe on the negative consequences of the ruling.

 

Dirk Inzé, scientific director at VIB-University of Gent Centre for Plant Systems Biology and one of the initiators of the position paper said: “The support for this initiative from plant scientists all over Europe has been overwhelming.

 

“It clearly illustrates the current dichotomy in Europe: as European leaders in the field of plant sciences we are committed to bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to agriculture, but we are hindered by an outdated regulatory framework that is not in line with recent scientific evidence. With this mission statement we hope to promote evidence-informed policymaking in the EU, which is of crucial importance to us all.”

 


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Implications

The implications of a very restrictive regulation of innovative plant breeding methods are far-reaching, say the signatories, arguing that European agricultural innovation based on precision breeding will come to a halt because of the high threshold that this EU legislation presents.

 

To safeguard innovation in agriculture in Europe, the signatories of the position paper ask for a new regulatory framework that evaluates new crop varieties based on science.

 

Following the European Court decision in July, Professor Nick Talbot, director of The Sainsbury Laboratory described the ruling as: “A retrograde step that is not based on any scientific evidence.”

 

Professor Wendy Harwood of the John Innes Centre, warned that the decision ‘could have major negative impacts on our ability to respond rapidly to the challenges of providing sufficient, nutritious food under increasingly challenging conditions’.

 

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