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European Research Institutes Ask EU to Allow Genome Editing in Crops

NEW YORK – A group of 132 European research institutes and associations called the European Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE) network is urging the European Council, European Parliament, and the European Commission to reverse their stance barring the use of genome editing in crops.

In a statement released on Friday, EU-SAGE said multiple challenges such as growing populations, a changing climate, and environmental damage are affecting food production around the world. In order to develop crop varieties that will meet these challenges, the group said, tools like precision breeding (or genome editing) will be needed. The technique has already been implemented to give important crops such as rice and wheat resistance to bacteria and fungi, it added.

Further, the research institutes said, if new crop varieties are not bred quickly, the world is in danger of failing to meet the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by all UN members in 2015 as a call to end poverty and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. The second goal is to end hunger.

The European Commission's recently published Green Deal also stated that the EU needs to develop innovative ways to reduce dependency on pesticides and fertilizers and reverse biodiversity loss, while also providing society with sufficient, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food.

Importantly, EU-SAGE said, Europe also needs to ensure "a highly productive and sustainable recovery" from the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes an agriculture that is less dependent on imports from outside the EU.

But the use of precision breeding techniques has been halted in Europe due to a July 2018 ruling from the European Court of Justice, which categorized all crops developed through this technique under prohibitively strict GMO regulations even if no foreign DNA was introduced into the crops, EU-SAGE said. So, the group is asking the EU to reconsider its stance on precision breeding through genome editing.

"A legislative and regulatory framework that reflects current scientific knowledge and evidence will ensure safe development and implementation of genome editing techniques," the group said in its statement. "It will allow Europe to reassert its leadership role in the global arena by guiding the development of tools that are essential to address coming challenges to our environment, our agriculture, and our lives."