`European Commission Considers Use of Gene-Editing in Agriculture - Olive Oil Times

European Commission Considers Use of Gene-Editing in Agriculture

Jun. 10, 2021
Justo Alvarez

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The European Commission has announced that it will review European Union rules on genet­i­cally mod­i­fied organ­isms (GMO), poten­tially paving the way to loos­en­ing restric­tions on the use of gene-edit­ing tech­nol­ogy in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor.

A report from the com­mis­sion said that the use of gene-edit­ing tech­nol­ogy, which tar­gets spe­cific genes to pro­mote or repress cer­tain traits, could con­tribute to future sus­tain­able food pro­duc­tion.

The E.U. has a respon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the rights of farm­ers to choose what they plant and for peo­ple to choose what they eat, and to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and bio­di­ver­sity from poten­tial harm from new GMOs.- Kevin Stairs, GMO pol­icy advi­sor, Greenpeace

The study we [pub­lished] con­cludes that New Genomic Techniques can pro­mote the sus­tain­abil­ity of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, in line with the objec­tives of our Farm to Fork Strategy,” Stella Kyriakides, the health and food safety com­mis­sioner, said.

With the safety of con­sumers and the envi­ron­ment as the guid­ing prin­ci­ple, now is the moment to have an open dia­logue with cit­i­zens, Member States and the European Parliament to jointly decide the way for­ward for the use of these biotech­nolo­gies in the E.U.,” she added.

See Also:Climate Change Is Altering the Nutrient Profiles of the World’s Crops

Julia Kloeckner, the German Agriculture Minister, wel­comed the find­ings of the com­mis­sion, call­ing the deci­sion to address a new legal frame­work around gene-edited crops as an over­due mod­ern­iza­tion,” which would help farm­ers.

However, in the report, the com­mis­sion also said there were con­cerns about the safety of gene-edited crops that would need to be addressed as well as issues per­tain­ing to their envi­ron­men­tal impact and how they should be labeled.


GMOs, which involve the trans­fer of a gene from one organ­ism to another to con­fer the desired trait, are rarely used in the E.U. due to skep­ti­cism over their envi­ron­men­tal impacts.

Officials in France, which is the E.U.’s largest pro­ducer of GMO crops, pre­vi­ously said they sup­ported treat­ing gene-edited tech­niques dif­fer­ently from GMOs.

However, crit­ics of this idea argue the fun­da­men­tal issues are the same for both gene-edited crops and GMOs.

The E.U. has a respon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the rights of farm­ers to choose what they plant and for peo­ple to choose what they eat, and to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and bio­di­ver­sity from poten­tial harm from new GMOs,” said Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace’s E.U. GMO pol­icy advi­sor.

The European Commission and national gov­ern­ments must respect the pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ci­ple and the European Court of Justice’s deci­sion,” he added. GMOs by another name are still GMOs, and must be treated as such under the law.”

While olive oil is largely unaf­fected by the debate sur­round­ing GMOs, with lit­tle appetite for exper­i­men­ta­tion in the indus­try, gene-edit­ing could reopen an old debate.

In the sum­mer of 2012, a research ini­tia­tive from the University of Tuscia was brought to an abrupt halt. At issue was the cen­tral Italian university’s exper­i­men­ta­tion with GMO olive trees.

Researchers were try­ing to cre­ate a tree resis­tant to com­mon fun­gal and bac­te­r­ial infec­tions. However, anti-GMO orga­ni­za­tions said the project vio­lated E.U. law and it was shut down before any con­clu­sions could be reached. All the trees were destroyed.

About one year later, Xylella fas­tidiosa began to spread across the south­ern region of Puglia, Italy’s most pro­duc­tive olive oil-pro­duc­ing region, and has not stopped since. The new debate in Brussels may inspire some to con­sider gene-edit­ing as a solu­tion to the region’s unabat­ing prob­lem.

Steve Savage, a plant pathol­o­gist and agri­cul­tural con­sul­tant in California, pre­vi­ously sug­gested that there may be a genetic engi­neer­ing solu­tion to stop the spread of the Xylella fas­tidiosa bac­te­ria in California’s vine­yards.

Modern genetic engi­neer­ing approaches could be very log­i­cal ways to pro­tect these par­tic­u­lar crops,” he said.

Daniel Dawson con­tributed to this report.


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