MEPs call for EU funding for gene editing surveillance research – EURACTIV.com

A cross-party coalition of MEPs has co-signed a letter to the European Commission demanding EU-funded research into the potential risks and analytical detection of genetically modified organisms, stressing that this is necessary to create informed policies on the matter.

The letter sent on February 8 stresses that the EU executive cannot just invest in European research to advance genetically modified (GM) technology and its applications, but should also “urgently invest in European research to deepen our knowledge of potential risks and enable the detection and traceability of GM products throughout the food chain”.

‘Only a comprehensive research program on genetic engineering will allow the EU to develop well-informed policies in this regard,’ MEPs said.

The appeal follows an intense debate over whether the 2018 European Court of Justice ruling – which found that genetically modified organisms fall under the EU’s stricter Genetically Modified Organisms Directive ( GMO) – can be confirmed without any means of distinguishing these crops from conventionally bred varieties.

In the absence of a robust test, EU countries have been unable to test their imports for the presence of GM crops, despite calls for stricter monitoring processes.

This issue must be addressed in the interests of public and environmental safety, letter states, emphasizing that organisms developed with genome-editing technology pose “new and different” risks compared to conventional breeding and currently commercialized genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Gene editing is a growing issue in the EU.

Following the results of a 2021 Commission study, which concluded that the current legal framework governing GE is insufficient, the EU executive is currently reviewing EU rules on technology. The presentation of a legislative proposal is expected in the second quarter of 2023.

First detection test developed for GM crops, say campaign groups

The first open-source detection method for a genetically modified crop has been developed, according to a scientific paper. Environmental NGOs and campaign groups said this could hypothetically allow the EU to carry out checks to prevent unauthorized imports, but the EU seed sector was quick to rebut that claim.

The signatories argue that just as it is possible to develop innovative new GM products based on breakthrough genome-editing technology, it is also “possible to develop state-of-the-art risk assessment and detection methods for them.” of technology”.

However, opinions are divided on this point.

Following the development of what activists hailed as the first open source detection method for a genetically modified cropthe industry was still not convinced of its validity.

The EU seed sector told EURACTIV at the time that there had never been any scientific doubt that these genetic changes could be detected, but rather that detection could prove whether the change was of natural origin or a consequence of genetic editing.

Challenging this position, MPs criticized the fact that, so far, there has been no concerted effort to back it up.

“We are convinced that the EU can and must overcome these challenges to maintain a high level of protection for our public health and the environment. However, this will not be possible without dedicated European research,” they say.

According to the European Commission, the EU has spent €685.5 million on research focusing on the bioeconomy related to NGT, including €271 million on plant biotechnology research, between 2007 and 2020. EU member states reported spending €356 million on NGT research over five years. year.

The EU executive explained that most of the funding has been dedicated to the development of these technologies and their applications in agriculture, health and industry.

However, only 1.6% of the 356 million euros spent by EU member states went on research on detection, risk assessment and monitoring methods. At the same time, the EU has not invested in specialized research into the specific risks posed by new GMOs or into ways to detect such GMOs, MEPs point out.

Green MEP Martin Häusling, one of the signatories of the letter, accused the Commission to pluck claims about the safety and untraceable nature of GM crops “from scratch”.

“Neither EU bodies nor national governments have invested money to actually investigate these issues. It is time for the Commission to recognize this and invest European funds in specific research on the potential risks and detection strategies of new GM crops,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, another signatory to the letter, MEP Eleonora Evi, warned that the current inadequacy of monitoring strategies could lead to a “real danger of these new GMOs ending up on our plates unchecked”.

She added that the release of genetically modified crops into the environment poses a serious risk to the EU organic sector, warning that it would “irreparably undermine the credibility of our agricultural production and our national agri-food chain”, which, according to her, has built its strength on “non-GMO” insurance.

“The Commission has a duty to ensure the correct application of European rules, which establish the same authorization, control and traceability process for new GMOs as for traditional GMOs, in order to protect public health and the environment. , as confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights. Judgment of justice,” she added.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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