Nothing wrong with genome editing in agriculture

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks into a microscope at the German Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 30 September 2015. [EPA]

While some may see the recent decision of the Court of Justice of the EU that states that organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs and are therefore subject to obligations laid down by the GMO directive as a win for consumers, the reality is just the opposite, writes Neal Gutterson.

Neal Gutterson is Chief Technology Officer, Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont

European Union law requires that any improvements made to a plant – even those that might otherwise occur in nature or through traditional breeding methods – be treated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). That was the essence of a ruling this week by the European Court of Justice.

While some may see this as a win for consumers, the reality is just the opposite.  For centuries, consumers have benefited from advances in breeding techniques, starting with those first introduced by Mendel in the mid-1800s.  Subjecting all new breeding advances to regulatory review will stifle innovation and deprive European farmers and consumers of a range of important benefits. These include healthier vegetables, disease- and drought-resistant crops and locally produced replacements for palm oil, just to name a few.

The Court’s decision runs counter to the preliminary opinion of the EU’s own Advocate General and doesn’t provide the regulatory clarity needed by EU researchers, academics and innovators. It is also contrary to the views taken by scientists as well as regulatory bodies outside of Europe.

Indeed, a growing number of countries, including global agricultural production leaders such as the United States, Argentina and Brazil, have examined the science and concluded that plant varieties developed through the latest breeding methods should not be subject to different or additional regulatory oversight if they could also be obtained through earlier breeding methods or result from processes occurring in nature.

As a global leader in the field of plant breeding innovation, my colleagues and I at Corteva Agrisciences™, the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, are committed to bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to farmers around the world through conventional techniques and innovative technologies such as CRISPR-Cas.

We urge the EU and its member states to move quickly to provide more workable legislation that will allow farmers and consumers across Europe to take advantage of the many benefits that technological innovations such as CRISPR-Cas genome editing can offer.

As a first step, we encourage the EU to engage citizens in an inclusive and fact-based dialogue to build understanding of genome editing and how it will be used in agriculture.

We certainly intend to continue our own efforts to bring critical benefits to European farmers and consumers.

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