In July 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union made a decision, which hampers the use of the new gene-editing technology CRSIPR-Cas in crop breeding. Universities Finland UNIFI is concerned about the effects the decision will have on plant research. If the new technologies cannot be utilized, it will be hard to solve the future problems, such as shortage of food and cultivation challenges caused by climate change.
– We find this decision extremely harmful and think that it is based on an inaccurate interpretation, states University of Turku rector, professor Kalervo Väänänen.
The Court of Justice ruled that the crops created by using the new CRSIPR-Cas technology will be subject to the same regulation as conventional genetically modified (GM) organisms. However, these two technologies differ from each other. This has been pointed out, for example, in the statement of the Swedish vice-chancellors as well as in the news article published by the University of Helsinki.
The conventional modification (GM) involves adding foreign genetic material to the organisms. Gene-editing, instead, aims at editing the plant’s own DNA. This usually creates such modifications that can be formed also naturally or be created by using traditional breeding techniques, but over a long period of time.
In practice, the Court of Justice’s interpretation of the law means that bringing gene-edited crops to the European market will require large and expensive risk evaluation, which only the biggest companies can afford. The commercial possibilities being this limited, it is likely that there will be no sufficient investments in the technology, which in turn will form a great obstacle to new plant research and innovations.
– In the future, it may be difficult for Europeans to take part in research cooperation with countries that have not adopted the same regulation, states University of Tampere vice-rector for research, professor Seppo Parkkila.
UNIFI would also like to point out that the legislation is problematic when obeying the law cannot be supervised. This is the case with gene-edited crops, since they cannot be told apart from natural mutations. Also, the technology being legitimate for example in the United States, it is likely that the gene-edited plants will eventually find their way to the European market and will also be utilized in the breeding.
– We hope that the European Union will reconsider the legislation and take into account the views expressed by the scientific community, Väänänen says.