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UK GMO Lobby Wants "Genome Edited" Products to Escape GMO Regulation and Labelling

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Dangers of Golden Rice page.

There's a massive lobbying effort in Europe, led by the UK, to exempt new "genome editing" techniques from GMO regulations and labelling. Currently crops and animals produced using these methods fall squarely within the European definition of a GMO, which is an organism in which "the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination".

Technologies have been developed that are intended to target GM gene insertion to a predetermined site within the plant's DNA in an effort to obtain a more predictable outcome than old-fashioned transgenic genetic modification can offer.

Unfortunately, however, these new techniques are not precise. Studies have found that they cause unintended genomic modifications in off-target sites, potentially causing a range of harmful side-effects.

It's highly unlikely that these peer-reviewed findings will be mentioned by the pro-GMO lobby group Sense About Science and its chosen experts, who are running a live Q&A session on genome editing today.

Meanwhile the UK's main public science funding body, the BBSRC, has published a lobbying statement arguing for the precision of genome editing techniques. One interesting thing about this statement and others arguing the same line is their implicit admission that old-fashioned transgenic methods are imprecise. It's taken many years for the GMO lobby to admit this and of course they only do so when industry has something "new" and "better" to offer.

BBSRC rides roughshod over science to engage in political lobbying

More insidiously, the BBSRC is using the supposed precision of genome editing to lobby for process-based GMO regulation to be abolished. Process-based regulation focuses on the techniques used to create a new crop variety. Europe and many other regions of the world currently have process-based GMO regulation in place. If the new crop variety is developed through GM, then in Europe and many other regions of the world, it must be assessed for safety and labelled. In Europe at least, that means consumers won't buy it.

The alternative to process-based regulation is product-based regulation, where the regulator looks at the trait the crop is engineered to express and regulates it on that basis. So if a crop were engineered to produce a pesticide, it would be regulated as a pesticide. If it were engineered to contain higher levels of a nutrient, it would probably escape regulation or it may be regulated as a natural food or drug, depending on the country and the product. In neither case would safety assessments specific to GM crops be triggered.

The countries with product-based regulation? The US and Canada. These countries have minimal oversight of GMO crops and foods. The US, for example, only regulates GMOs if they are pesticides or plant pests, and assumes that GMO Bt pesticidal plants are harmless to humans and animals because natural Bt is allegedly harmless to humans and animals. It completely ignores the fact that the GMO Bt toxin is different from natural Bt in structure and mode of action, thus losing its specificity to insect pests and opening up the possibility that it is toxic or allergenic to humans and animals.