Gene Editing Super League – EURACTIV.com
As the second half of the EU gene-editing game begins with the recent Commission study on New Genomic Techniques (NGT), the two opposing teams are ready to call on their star players.
If the problem with gene editing were a football game, opposing teams would be the ones who see these techniques as being on par with ‘conventional’ genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – and, therefore, banned in Europe. – face to face those who are enthusiastic about the potential of genetic engineering.
Or, in other words, “new GMOs united” against “genetic arsenal”.
New GMO United broke the deadlock by scoring a goal in 2018 when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a game-changing ruling.
The ECJ ruled that the organisms obtained by the technique of plant breeding by mutagenesis are GMOs and should, in principle, fall under the scope of the GMO directive, leaving the industry “shocked” and the Commission “surprised”.
From that moment, the new United GMOs launched a lucrative Italian-style catenaccio, ‘park the bus’ in front of goal to protect their lead.
And it worked: Despite several calls and attempts on target, the Genetic Arsenal failed to extend the opponent’s defense.
Their main chance came thanks to the assistance of the Council of the EU, which requested a Commission study to provide some legal clarity on the issue after the ECJ ruling.
In short, the study was like a penalty shot.
The Commission climbed to the penalty spot and sent the new GMO keeper the wrong way to equalize just before the referee signaled the end of the first half.
The study was published on Thursday April 29 and was the occasion for the Commission to officially take a position in favor of NGTs.
Make no mistake: it was already clear that the EU executive – and its food safety service, DG Health in particular – had a soft spot for gene editing.
Towards the end of his term, former EU health chief Vytenis Andriukaitis wrote a pro-NGT column on EURACTIV.
It reads: “Now we have found a faster way to breed, mix and produce better varieties – through genetic engineering. It might sound like a success, right? Sadly, a wave of suspicion and fear has pushed these innovations out of the EU. “
In its recently published study, the Commission made it clear that, while respecting the ECJ ruling as a form of inter-institutional comity, it is of the opinion that the current framework governing NGTs is insufficient, calling for consideration new policy instruments.
The new concept is the “targeted approach” that they want to pursue. The Commission does not wish to reopen the entire Pandora’s box of the GMO directive, but has instead chosen to focus on the NGTs it considers the most promising.
Such a selective, case-by-case approach is essentially the exact opposite of arguments advanced by environmental NGOs, which maintain that all organisms obtained with these techniques should be labeled as GMOs.
The EU executive also highlighted the potential of NGT products and their applications to contribute to the objectives of the EU’s flagship environmental policy, the European Green Deal.
This hypothesis has not yet been demonstrated, but it is a clear signal from the Commission and it means: okay, we like this.
So what to expect from the second half of the genetic editing match?
After half-time, the new OGM United could send on its star player: the German government.
In September, Germany will hold elections and the Greens will likely be called upon to play a central role in the creation of the new ruling coalition. There is even speculation that the country may see a green politician as the head of its government.
And it’s no secret that the Greens take the issue of gene editing to heart.
The first political reaction after the publication of the Commission study which fell in my mailbox came from the German delegation of the European Greens.
Just an hour and a half later, I received the (substantially similar) comment from the European Greens.
So green is the color, gene editing is the game.
On the one hand, the Commission is encouraging this new green-tinged approach to gene editing, on the other hand, a government led by the Greens in Germany could become a tiebreaker.
See, for example, how the EU’s animal welfare program is running at full speed thanks to the active lobby of the German government.
But it’s not just about the Greens’ antagonism towards gene editing. The German organic market is booming and the potential contradiction between genetically modified and organic products is emerging.
And this contraposition could become a rapid counter-attack launched by the new GMOs united since the Commission is also putting pressure on organic.
Anyway, we are only at half-time and everything is still to be decided.
The gene editing revolution could change the way we think about food in Europe, creating climate-resistant superfoods. Or it could end up like the Super League project in football, never seeing the light.