Leading scientists call for science-based policy making to safeguard plant breeding innovation

Leading scientists representing more than 85 European plant and life sciences research centers and institutes have endorsed a position paper that urgently calls upon European policy makers to safeguard innovation in plant science and agriculture. The scientists are deeply concerned about the recent European Court of Justice ruling around modern genome editing techniques that could lead to a de facto ban of innovative crop breeding. As a result, European farmers might be deprived of a new generation of more climate resilient and more nutritious crop varieties that are urgently needed to respond to current ecological and societal challenges.
Subjecting crops obtained through modern genome editing to GMO regulations will deny European consumers, producers, researchers and entrepreneurs important opportunities in sustainable agriculture, the position paper says. It continues arguing for an urgent review and amendment of the European legislation on new breeding technologies. In the short term, the legislation should be altered such that crops with small DNA adaptations obtained through genome editing are not subject to the provisions of the GMO Directive but instead fall under the regulatory regime that applies to classically bred varieties.

"As European leaders in the field of plant sciences we are committed to bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to agriculture, but we are hindered by an outdated regulatory framework that is not in line with recent scientific evidence. With this mission statement we hope to promote evidence-informed policymaking in the EU, which is of crucial importance to us all,“ says Dirk Inzé, Scientific Director at VIB and one of the initiators of the position paper.

In August, the organizers of the International Plant Molecular Biology congress in Montpellier, France started an online petition calling for a review of the ruling. The petition has now attracted more than 5,200 signatures, including Inzé’s. It declares that there is “no scientific rationale” for the ruling and that the EU should regulate crop genetic techniques on the basis of science.

And on 13 September, researchers from 33 UK science, farming and agricultural–technology organizations sent an open letter to the UK government to encourage recognition of gene editing as a non-GM method.

ESA welcomes these initiatives as proof of solid consensus among the academic life science research community in Europe on the negative consequences of this ruling.

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