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

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)

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)

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

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)

Bound to fail: The flawed scientific foundations of agricultural genetic engineering

Publication date: 21/11/2018

Many technologies, at the time of their inception, have appeared efficacious, safe, and generally a good idea, based on the science at the time. However, in a number of cases, a technology that was once deemed appropriate and desirable has later turned out to be not such a good idea after all. Not only has it failed to deliver on its promises, but it has given rise to environmental damage and negative health impacts. Such technologies have ended up being abandoned or tightly restricted.

There are many examples from history. Asbestos, DDT insecticides, leaded gasoline, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in electrical goods were all once hailed as great innovations, but as we grew in our understanding of the mechanisms and complexities of nature’s functioning, we found they could have devastating effects on the health of humans and animals.

We continue to learn from our catastrophic mistakes, but only after serious damage has already occurred to health and the environment. In order to avoid such damage, we need to constantly review each technology from the perspective of the science from which it is derived. Transgenic and genome editing technologies are no exception.

Resource type: article: Web Page

What is the available evidence for the application of genome editing as a new tool for plant trait modification and the potential occurrence of associated off-target effects: a systematic map protocol

Publication date: 16/08/2018

Plant breeding is a developing process and breeding methods have continuously evolved over time. In recent years, genome editing techniques such as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR associated proteins (CRISPR/Cas), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), zinc-finger nucleases (ZFN), meganucleases (MN) and oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis (ODM) enabled a precise modification of DNA sequences in plants. Genome editing has already been applied in a wide range of plant species due to its simplicity, time saving and cost-effective application compared to earlier breeding techniques including classical mutagenesis. Although genome editing techniques induce much less unintended modifications in the genome (off-target effects) compared to classical mutagenesis techniques, off-target effects are a prominent point of criticism as they might cause genomic instability, cytotoxicity and cell death.

Resource type: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf)

Is the new European ruling on GM techniques ‘anti-science’?

Publication date: 06/08/2018

There has been much commotion in the media over the past week, following the ruling by the European Court of Justice over how to interpret EU laws bearing on the regulation of GM crops.

The ruling clarifies an anomaly, in that new plant varieties developed by longstanding non-GM gene-altering techniques of ‘mutagenesis‘ (using chemical reactions or ionising radiation) are now interpreted “in principle” to be classifiable as GMOs. The new GM techniques of ‘gene editing‘, on the other hand, are interpreted by the ECJ to be included in existing GM regulations.

In a complex case, the Court’s rationale is not without some ambiguity or persisting questions.

Resource type: Web page URL