By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Assistant Director of Policy
Last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) published a legal opinion from its Advocate General that gene editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 should not be included in the EU’s regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While the ECJ is not required to follow this legal opinion, in practice they often do. The ECJ will rule on the issue in the coming months.
This news is important because when the regulatory status of plant breeding innovations that are different from biotechnology is uncertain, scientists have trouble moving forward with new trait development. While transgenic biotechnology (GM or GMO) involves inserting foreign DNA into the target plant, these new techniques allow for gene deletion or modification without the presence of foreign DNA.
Innovation is an important evolution in the plant breeding process in that it involves precise changes in a plant’s genome in a controlled manner. Over-regulation of these technologies could stifle scientific advancements that the agricultural community needs to continually improve food supply in a sustainable way. If these advanced breeding methods were automatically regulated as GMOs, this would make it nearly impossible for non-commercial researchers and small companies to use them to develop new varieties for the market.
For wheat, the effect of not having commercialized advanced breeding traits can be seen in the concerning decline in both planted area compared to other crops and in research funding. Wheat yields have not increased at the same rate as other crops, and the potential for quality improvements has not been realized.
Additionally, these new breeding innovations would allow scientists to develop traits that are consumer-facing, with the potential to improve everything from milling quality to nutrition and health benefits that would be good for the entire supply chain.
Plant breeding innovations like gene editing have the potential to create new varieties of wheat that meet pressing needs both for farmers and customers, so it is important that any regulation of these new technologies be science-based.
To read more, visit https://seedinginnovation.org/.