Norwich crop scientists demand urgent rethink of EU gene editing rules

Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: John Innes Centre.

Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Picture: John Innes Centre. - Credit: John Innes Centre

Norwich scientists have added their voice to calls for an urgent rethink of European legislation restricting the use of genome editing technologies which they say could rapidly improve food crops.

Norwich scientists have called for an urgent rethink of European legislation restricting the use of

Norwich scientists have called for an urgent rethink of European legislation restricting the use of genome editing technologies. Pictured: Agrobacterium transformation of brassica. Picture: John Innes Centre - Credit: John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory, both based at the Norwich Research Park, are among the 117 research institutes from across the EU to sign an open statement aimed at the newly-elected European Parliament and European Commission.

It comes exactly a year after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that plants obtained by gene editing should be treated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

But the statement says these techniques should be exempt from the wider ban on GM crops, enabling scientists, plant breeders and farmers to employ faster and more efficient ways of producing food sustainably.

Unlike traditional genetic modification - which may involve insertion of foreign DNA into an organism - gene editing is a group of technologies involving the precise replacement of one DNA sequence with another.


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It allows scientists and breeders to target and control specific genes already in a plant species, for example to rapidly correct unhelpful mutations - a process that could also occur naturally over time.

The statement argues that a small revision of the European legislation would harmonise it with the legal framework in other nations and enable European scientists, breeders, farmers and producers to use tools that produce high yielding crops while decreasing the use of chemicals and water.

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Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre, said: "At a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges, it is essential that we can make full use of innovative tools for sustainable food production. The ECJ decision has had major negative impacts on Europe's ability to respond to pressing global challenges."

Prof Nick Talbot, director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, said: "The ruling a year ago was not based on any scientific evidence: to classify gene edited crops as GMOs and equivalent to transgenic crops is completely incorrect by any scientific definition. We call on the European Parliament and European Commission to reverse this retrograde decision."

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