Despite the ongoing legal uncertainty over the future of new plant breeding innovation in Europe, US agricultural company Corteva Agriscience has signed its first major deal on genome editing tools with French seed producer Vilmorin & Cie.
The French company issued a press release on Monday (9 December) announcing the signature of an agreement on genome editing tools with Corteva Agriscience and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, a biomedical and genomic research centre.
The licensing deal will provide the French company with access to certain CRISPR-Cas9 patents covering genome editing tools for agricultural use.
“Vilmorin & Cie now has access to a wide range of genome editing tools, which will enable it to strengthen its ability to develop more efficient seed varieties in order to contribute to meeting global food challenges,” the company said.
The gene-editing deal is considered of high significance in light of the ongoing debate in Europe about the regulatory future of gene editing. The issue heated up in 2018 after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that organisms obtained by new plant breeding techniques (NBTs) should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.
“This recent licensing agreement is a good example of how we, together with a major European innovation leader, are driving innovations to maximise sustainability and productivity,” commented Neal Gutterson, chief technology officer at Corteva Agriscience.
Following the controversial court decision, the EU member states requested a study from the Commission to clarify the situation.
Environmentalists strongly oppose the NPBTs saying they are “new GMOs”. They also accuse the agri-food industry of trying to bring them to Europe through the back door and have hailed the court decision.
The EU organic association (IFOAM) recently told EURACTIV that the court decision is clear and that the EU executive should, therefore, take a coordinating role in the implementation of the law in order to push forward the development of adequate detection methods and strategies.
On the other hand, farmers complain that the decision prevents them from using innovative tools in agriculture, resulting in decreased competitiveness compared to other farmers in other parts of the world.
In an op-ed for EURACTIV, former EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis backed the gene-editing method, calling on Europe to take the lead in science-based plant innovation.
He said the debate on new breeding techniques is intense and emotional, often based on scare and risk mongering.
“Often the NBTs are dubbed by their opponents as ‘new GMOs’ with (unscientific!) concerns over their safety or simply rejected in the European agriculture, be it for ethical or other reasons […] I guess this is clearly signalling that we need a serious debate about this, with facts on the table and an open discussion,” Andriukaitis wrote in the op-ed.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]