We’ve scanned the web to bring together a library of interesting, thought-provoking articles, blogs, reports and academic papers that explore the issue of genetic engineering in food and farming from broader and deeper perspectives. Browse for inspiration or search by theme.

Transferring the laboratory to the wild: An emerging era of environmental genetic engineering

Publication date: 01/11/2019

The last 30 years of commercialisation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have thus far been restricted to a limited number of species, predominantly maize and soy.

Developers are reacting to plateauing global adoption rates of these commercialised first-generation genetically engineered (GE) crops, which are plagued by declining trait efficacy and sustained market rejection, by reinvigorating efforts to usher in new crops and organisms.

New genetic engineering techniques such as genome editing and new delivery techniques have facilitated an emerging trend to genetically engineer organisms in the wild, moving the engineering process to agroecosystems and beyond, essentially converting the environment into the laboratory.

Previous techniques originally developed as research tools in contained-use settings, or for gene therapy in clinical settings, may be released into the environment to genetically engineer agricultural and wild organisms unchecked.

This briefing form the Third World Network summarises presents examples of research and applications.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

European science community urges rethink on genome editing

Publication date: 25/07/2019

Scientists from the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory today joined colleagues from across Europe in calling for an urgent rethink of EU legislation on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

An open statement signed by 126 research institutes says that scientists and plant breeders in the European Union should be enabled to use gene editing with CRISPR as a faster and more efficient way of producing food sustainably.

Aimed at the newly-elected European Parliament and European Commission, the statement comes one year to the day that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that plants obtained by modern forms of mutagenesis, of which gene-editing is an example, are not exempted from the EU GMO Directive.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Creating a Sustainable Food Future – A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050

Publication date: 17/07/2019

As the global population grows from 7 billion in 2010 to a projected 9.8 billion in 2050, and incomes grow across the developing world, overall food demand is on course to increase by more than 50 percent, and demand for animal-based foods by nearly 70 percent. Yet today, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry, agriculture already uses almost half of the world’s vegetated land, and agriculture and related land-use change generate one-quarter of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This synthesis report proposes a menu of options that could allow the world to achieve a sustainable food future by meeting growing demands for food, avoiding deforestation, and reforesting or restoring abandoned and unproductive land—and in ways that help stabilize the climate, promote economic development, and reduce poverty.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

Roads forward for European GMO policy—uncertainties in wake of ECJ judgment have to be mitigated by regulatory reform

Publication date: 05/06/2019

This article gives an overview of legal and procedural uncertainties regarding genome edited organisms and possible ways forward for European GMO policy. After a recent judgment by the European Court of Justice (ECJ judgment of 25 July 2018, C-528/16), organisms obtained by techniques of genome editing are GMOs and subject to the same obligations as transgenic organisms.

Uncertainties emerge if genome edited organisms cannot be distinguished from organisms bred by conventional techniques, such as crossing or random mutagenesis. In this case, identical organisms can be subject to either GMO law or exempt from regulation because of the use of a technique that cannot be identified. Regulatory agencies might not be able to enforce GMO law for such cases in the long term. As other jurisdictions do not regulate such organisms as GMOs, accidental imports might occur and undermine European GMO regulation.

In the near future, the EU Commission as well as European and national regulatory agencies will decide on how to apply the updated interpretation of the law. In order to mitigate current legal and procedural uncertainties, a first step forward lies in updating all guidance documents to specifically address genome editing specifically address genome editing, including a solution for providing a unique identifier. In part, the authorization procedure for GMO release can be tailored to different types of organisms by making use of existing flexibilities in GMO law.

However, only an amendment to the regulations that govern the process of authorization for GMO release can substantially lower the burden for innovators. In a second step, any way forward has to aim at amending, supplementing or replacing the European GMO Directive (2001/18/EC). The policy options presented in this article presuppose political readiness for reform. This may not be realistic in the current political situation. However, if the problems of current GMO law are just ignored, European competitiveness and research in green biotechnology will suffer.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

Gene Drives. A report on their science, applications, social aspects, ethics and regulations

Publication date: 29/05/2019

This lengthy and in-depth report – a collaboration by  Critical Scientists Switzerland (CSS), European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and Vereinigung Deutscher Wissenschaftler (VDW) – delves into the science, biology and techniques behind gene drives, their potential applications and risks, as well as the social, ethical legal and regulatory issues that the technology, perhaps inevitably, brings with it.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

CRISPR editing of plants and animals gets green light in Australia. Now what?

Publication date: 30/04/2019

Changes will make Australian gene technology regulations more relaxed than New Zealand and Europe but tighter than the US. Some scientists urge caution and question the arguments used to support deregulation of the most common form of gene editing, but the food authority has yet to decide on safety assessment and labelling of gene-edited foods.

Resource type: article: Web Page

Promises and perils of gene drives: Navigating the communication of complex, post-normal science

Publication date: 16/04/2019

In November of 2017, an interdisciplinary panel discussed the complexities of gene drive applications as part of the third Sackler Colloquium on “The Science of Science Communication.” The panel brought together a social scientist, life scientist, and journalist to discuss the issue from each of their unique perspectives. This paper builds on the ideas and conversations from the session to provide a more nuanced discussion about the context surrounding responsible communication and decision-making for cases of post-normal science. Deciding to use gene drives to control and suppress pests will involve more than a technical assessment of the risks involved, and responsible decision-making regarding their use will require concerted efforts from multiple actors. We provide a review of gene drives and their potential applications, as well as the role of journalists in communicating the extent of uncertainties around specific projects. We also discuss the roles of public opinion and online environments in public engagement with scientific processes. We conclude with specific recommendations about how to address current challenges and foster more effective communication and decision-making for complex, post-normal issues, such as gene drives.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

Detection of food and feed plant products obtained by new mutagenesis techniques

Publication date: 26/03/2019

The European Network of GMO Laboratories (ENGL) has reviewed the possibilities and challenges for the detection of food and feed plant products obtained by new directed mutagenesis techniques leading to genome editing.The focus of this report is on products of genome editing that do not contain any inserted recombinantDNA in the final plant.

It concludes that validation of an event-specific detection method and its implementation for market control will only be feasible for genome-edited plant products carrying a known DNA alteration that has been shown to be unique. Under the current circumstances, market control will fail to detect unknown genome-edited plant products.Several issues with regard to the detection, identification and quantification of genome-edited products are currently based on theoretical considerations only and lack any experimental evidence. Therefore,they will require further consideration.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

The ethics of genome editing in non-human animals: a systematic review of reasons reported in the academic literature

Publication date: 25/03/2019

In recent years, new genome editing technologies have emerged that can edit the genome of non-human animals with progressively increasing efficiency. Despite ongoing academic debate about the ethical implications of these technologies, no comprehensive overview of this debate exists. To address this gap in the literature, we conducted a systematic review of the reasons reported in the academic literature for and against the development and use of genome editing technologies in animals. Most included articles were written by academics from the biomedical or animal sciences. The reported reasons related to seven themes: human health, efficiency, risks and uncertainty, animal welfare, animal dignity, environmental considerations and public acceptability. Our findings illuminate several key considerations about the academic debate, including a low disciplinary diversity in the contributing academics, a scarcity of systematic comparisons of potential consequences of using these technologies, an underrepresentation of animal interests, and a disjunction between the public and academic debate on this topic. As such, this article can be considered a call for a broad range of academics to get increasingly involved in the discussion about genome editing, to incorporate animal interests and systematic comparisons, and to further discuss the aims and methods of public involvement.

Resource type: Web page URL

Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing

Publication date: 13/03/2019

We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children.

By ‘global moratorium’, we do not mean a permanent ban. Rather, we call for the establishment of an international framework in which nations, while retaining the right to make their own decisions, voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met.

To begin with, there should be a fixed period during which no clinical uses of germline editing whatsoever are allowed. As well as allowing for discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be considered before germline editing is permitted, this period would provide time to establish an international framework.

Thereafter, nations may choose to follow separate paths. About 30 nations currently have legislation that directly or indirectly bars all clinical uses of germline editing, and they might choose to continue the moratorium indefinitely or implement a permanent ban. However, any nation could also choose to allow specific applications of germline editing, provided that it first: gives public notice of its intention to consider the application and engages for a defined period in international consultation about the wisdom of doing so; determines through transparent evaluation that the application is justified; and ascertains that there is broad societal consensus in the nation about the appropriateness of the application. Nations might well choose different paths, but they would agree to proceed openly and with due respect to the opinions of humankind on an issue that will ultimately affect the entire species.

Resource type: article: Web Page