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.

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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

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)

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

Embracing uncertainty: what are the implications for sustainability and development?

Publication date: 23/01/2019

Uncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?

Uncertainty is a concept that defines our times. Every media headline seems to assert that things are uncertain, and increasingly so. Whether it’s climate change, disease outbreaks, economic conditions or political settlements, the same narrative exists.

Helga Nowotny, in her book The Cunning of Uncertainty, argues that “uncertainty is written into the script of life”. But how should we understand ‘uncertainty’, and why does it matter? Are we equipped for responding to seemingly accelerating uncertainties across different policy domains?

A conventional, managerial and technocratic approach is to construct such challenges as risks – where the probabilities of future outcomes are known, or at least can be estimated. The paraphernalia of risk assessment and management are familiar, derived from engineering approaches. These approaches are good for some cases, such as designing a bridge or road, but not for others, where complex socio-ecological dynamics are involved.

 

Resource type: Web page URL

Revisiting risk governance of GM plants: the need to consider new and emerging gene-editing techniques

Publication date: 21/12/2018

New and emerging gene-editing techniques make it possible to target specific genes in species with greater speed and specificity than previously possible. Of major relevance for plant breeding, regulators and scientists are discussing how to regulate products developed using these gene-editing techniques.

Such discussions include whether to adopt or adapt the current framework for GMO risk governance in evaluating the impacts of gene-edited plants, and derived products, on the environment, human and animal health and society. Product classification or definition is one of several aspects of the current framework being criticized. Further, knowledge gaps related to risk assessments of gene-edited organisms—for example of target and off-target effects of intervention in plant genomes—are also of concern.

Resolving these and related aspects of the current framework will involve addressing many subjective, value-laden positions, for example how to specify protection goals through ecosystem service approaches. A process informed by responsible research and innovation practices, involving a broader community of people, organizations, experts, and interest groups, could help scientists, regulators, and other stakeholders address these complex, value-laden concerns related to gene-editing of plants with and for society.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

European Court of Justice ruling regarding new genetic engineering methods scientifically justified: A commentary on the biased reporting about the recent ruling

Publication date: 20/12/2018

In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (Case C-528/16) ruled that organisms obtained by directed mutagenesis techniques are to be regarded as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within the meaning of Directive 2001/18. The ruling marked the next round of the dispute around agricultural genetic engineering in Europe. Many of the pros and cons presented in this dispute are familiar from the debate around the first generation of genetic engineering techniques. The current wave of enthusiasm for the new genetic engineering methods, with its claim to make good on the failed promises of the previous wave, seems to point more to an admission of failure of the last generation of genetic engineering than to a true change of paradigm. Regulation is being portrayed as a ban on research and use, which is factually incorrect, and the judges of the European Court of Justice are being defamed as espousing “pseudoscience”. Furthermore, this highly polarised position dominates the media reporting of the new techniques and the court’s ruling. Advocates of the new genetic engineering techniques appear to believe that their benefits are so clear that furnishing reliable scientific evidence is unnecessary. Meanwhile, critics who believe that the institution of science is in a serious crisis are on the increase not just due to the cases of obvious documented scientific misconduct by companies and scientists, but also due to the approach of dividing the world into those categorically for or against genetic engineering. In this construct of irreconcilable opposites, differentiations fall by the wayside. This article is a response to this one-sided and biased reporting, which often has the appearance of spin and lacks journalistic ethics that require journalists to report on different positions in a balanced and factual manner instead of taking positions and becoming undeclared advocates themselves.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

Livestock 2.0 – genome editing for fitter, healthier, and more productive farmed animals

Publication date: 26/11/2018

The human population is growing, and as a result we need to produce more food whilst reducing the impact of farming on the environment. Selective breeding and genomic selection have had a transformational impact on livestock productivity, and now transgenic and genome-editing technologies offer exciting opportunities for the production of fitter, healthier and more-productive livestock. Here, we review recent progress in the application of genome editing to farmed animal species and discuss the potential impact on our ability to produce food.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)