ALLEA (All European Academies) in collaboration with the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten, KVAB), organised a symposium about plant genome editing that took place in Brussels, in the Palace of the Academies, on 7th and 8th November 2019.
The ALLEA-KVAB symposium followed up on the concerns and criticisms voiced by large parts of the scientific community in response to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision of 25 July 2018, that organisms produced by directed mutagenesis techniques, such as genome editing with CRISPR, should be considered as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within the meaning of the GMO Directive 2001/18. The scientific community has also voiced concerns that substantially restricting the possibility of utilising genome editing by applying the GMO legislation will have considerable negative consequences for agriculture, society and economy. More specifically, continued restrictions may hamper the selection of more productive, diverse and climate-resilient crops with a reduced environmental footprint.
Many research institutes and academies have expressed the opinion that the European legislative bodies should respond to the decision of the ECJ by clarifying that plants obtained through genome editing should not be subject to the EU GMO legislation, but should be regulated on a similar basis as plants obtained through classical breeding techniques. The features of the plant, rather than the technique used to generate it, should determine its regulatory status. This conclusion corresponds to the consensus present in the scientific community that plants that were subjected to targeted genome edits, which do not add foreign DNA, do not present any other health or environmental danger than plants obtained through classical breeding techniques, and are as safe or dangerous as the latter. Furthermore, the ECJ ruling is in sharp contrast to legislation in many other countries outside the EU that exempt genome-edited crops from their respective GMO legislations.
The symposium established a dialogue with relevant stakeholders to assess the impact of the decision of the ECJ on present research and developments in genome editing for plant breeding. Moreover, the symposium aimed at providing an overview of the scientific evidence with respect to safety of genome- edited crops and their possible potential to provide solutions to current and future agricultural problems. Other relevant aspects were considered as well, such as economic and social advantages and disadvantages, and the legal hurdles in redressing the decision of the ECJ by legislative means. Finally, the symposium also addressed issues related to the traceability of genome-edited crops and how this will likely affect international trade of food and feed. Participants of the symposium were also addressed by Hilde Crevits, the Vice Minister-president of the Flemish government and Flemish Minister for Economy, Innovation, Labour, Social Economy and Agriculture. In her closing remarks she recalled the all-encompassing nature of food production as well as the ground-breaking potential of genome editing as a contributor to solving global issues like climate change. Though supportive of the technology, she cautioned that scientific findings cannot simply be transformed into viable policies without taking public perception and ethics into account.
This summary provides European policymakers and the public with the best available scientific evidence for legislation that takes the latest scientific knowledge duly into account.
Source: ALLEA (2020) lead authors: Dima, O.; Bocken H.; Custers, R.; Inze, D.; Puigdomenech, P.; Genome Editing for Crop Improvement. Symposium summary. Berlin. DOI: 10.26356/gen-editing-crop