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The scientific community calls for the European Union to allow genomic editing for sustainable agriculture

  • Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit
  • July 24th, 2020
Genomic editing techniques have made it possible to improve various crops. In the case of the vine (photo), more resistant plants to fungi have been obtained.
Genomic editing techniques have made it possible to improve various crops. In the case of the vine (photo), more resistant plants to fungi have been obtained.

The European scientific community grouped into the European Network for Sustainable Agriculture through the Genome Edition (EU-SAGE) has published, today Friday, July 24, a public statement addressed to the European Commission, Parliament and Council so that legislation is amended and genomic editing techniques are allowed and, with them, sustainable agriculture and improved food production can be achieved.

The entity, which brings together 132 European research institutes and associations, including the Vice-Rectorate for Research and the Institute for Integrative Systems Biology (I2SysBio), a joint centre of the University of Valencia and the CSIC, makes this call in the context of offering solutions for a more efficient selection of crops resistant to the climate, less dependent on fertilisers and pesticides, and that help preserve natural resources.

Thus, they advise “revising” the directive on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Changes caused by this technique, without the introduction of foreign DNA, can also occur naturally, so the technique should be exempt from the application of GMO legislation. The modification of the legislation that is intended with the manifesto refers to the decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, of July 25, 2018, which de facto prevents the use of this technology for the improvement of crops in Europe.

When regulating genome editing, the legislator should also consider the benefits of this technology, including the disadvantages from not adopting it”, they say, referring to countries that do apply it. In this sense, EU legislation fundamentally distinguishes between crops according to whether they are produced by genome editing or by traditional cultivation methods. “There is an urgent need for harmonisation of the regulatory framework worldwide”, they point out.

The influential sectors of European Society are not aware of the value of innovation in agriculture, including the one needed for preserving traditional varieties. A narrative for European food production that includes the importance of innovative and more efficient approaches throughout the value chain is necessary”, concludes the specific request to the executive and legislative bodies of the European Union.

 

Precision breeding

The manifesto recalls that in order to achieve a more sustainable agriculture and food production, the most recent tool to develop new crop varieties is precision breeding, a technology also known as genome editing, which allows the development of desired crop varieties in a faster, relatively simple and much more direct way compared to previous cultivation techniques.

The recently published Green Deal of the European Commission stated within the context of the Farm to Fork strategy that the EU needs to develop innovative ways to reduce dependence on pesticides and fertilisers, reverse biodiversity loss while at the same time provide society with sufficient nutritious, sustainable and affordable food. The strategy is in line with the importance of food and agriculture in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Besides achieving these goals, we need to develop a highly productive and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, with an agriculture that is less dependent on imports from outside the EU.” In this sense, they cite that the necessary tools are “all possible approaches, including innovative plant breeding technologies, to address these challenges and achieve the ambitious goals of the Farm to Fork strategy”.

 

Open statement in English here.

Open statement in Spanish here.

Open statement in Catalan here.

European Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) network website: https://www.eu-sage.eu/

 

Annexed photo captions:

  • European Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) network logo.

  • Map including the world state of the application of genomic editing techniques. In green, countries without regulation; in red, limited by considering them transgenic; and in orange, countries under discussion. Image: @EU-SAGE.

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