Gene Editing Regulation in the EU

Gene editing (GE) is a game-changer for those in science, agriculture, or really for anyone who eats food. Heat, disease, and drought resistant cattle, corn, pigs, and barley are already in the works. They are a way forward for farmers trying to feed our growing population in a changing climate. Right now the EU is struggling to decide how to regulate GE organisms--by reviewing the product, or by asking questions about the creation of the product. I think the EU--and the US--should follow Canada's lead and should regulate GE organisms based on the actual product. 

Last month, a non-browning mushroom became the first US-approved CRISPR-edited organism. Several crops developed with older genetic engineering methods already were given the green light in the US.

But the European Union still hasn't decided if or how it will regulate GE foods, putting the brakes on this new technology. The EU enforces stringent limits on traditional GMOs (genetically modified organisms). GMOs and food or feed made from GMOs can be marketed in or imported into the EU, provided that they are authorized after passing strict evaluation and safety assessment requirements that are imposed on a case-by-case basis. Numerous moratoriums and delays have limited the EU's research into and regulation of GMOs. Some interest groups want the EU to regulate GE organisms like GMOs, but scientists explain that GE plant and animals are different from traditional GMO organisms. Most genetic editing does not involve any foreign DNA from a different species. Instead, the new technology is akin to natural selective breeding. Gene editing works like the functions on your computer's document editing program -- copy and paste, find and paste, etc. It finds a specific gene and amends or deletes DNA. Many uses of genetic editing produce organisms whose phenotypes are indistinguishable from those created by natural breading methods used the world over. 

Canada now regulates GE organisms by the traits of those animals and plants--not how that trait was produced. This focus on the actual end product makes the most sense. Regulating products based on the creation process results in confused regulators, product developers, and consumers. Consumers would be left in the dark as to what creation or growth stages were reviewed, what standards the regulators used, and what an approval really means. A targeted review of the final product would give consumers confidence they know what they are buying. Consumers would know what was reviewed (the product they are buying), the standards used (safety of that product), and what the approval meant (that the product itself was safe for human consumption). The EU should follow Canada's lead. It should regulate gene edited plants and animals according to the actual product seeking entrance into the market.