The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in this year 2020 to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for the discovery of a new genome editing tool, so-called CRISPR-Cas technique, a technological revolution better known under the name of “genetic scissors “.
This is a recent invention and the first report was published by Science only in 2012. Immediately all the concerned laboratories took it over. It has already generated numerous applications in human medicine for treatments of incurable genetic diseases such as lymphoblastic leukemia.
It also provides genetic solutions to animal diseases such as Classical Swine Fever or to an improvement in animal welfare through for example a better thermoregulation of pigs or the production of hornless cattle. It can also be used in plant varietal breeding for the development of biotech plants that provide sought-after nutritional intakes or have the ability to better resist crop pests or drought, broadening the range of solutions to respond to climate change.
But while this recent invention is already being implemented in almost all continents (United States, Canada, Argentina, Japan, China, Australia, etc.), the European Union is lagging behind for regulatory reasons. Indeed, many countries have decided that for minor genome changes there is no need to apply GMO regulations, which as a result both lowers the registration costs of new genome editing products and promotes innovation.
Conversely, the European Union, by the judgment of its Court of Justice (CJEU) of 25 July 2018, decided that new genome editing techniques produce GMOs. However, only large international conglomerates have a sufficient financial base to meet the regulatory requirements applied to them.
In addition, the situation of European genome editing research is of major concern. A recent study by the Foundation for Political Innovation points out that more than 80% of the patents filed on the applications of the CRISPR-Cas technique are American or Chinese and less than 10% European. This situation is worrying for both the future of E U’s agro-food or of its health independence, as highlighted in a recent study published by the Sapiens Institute.
Several organizations or institutions have already strongly recommended the revision of the existing GMO Directive such as of The European Commission’s scientific advisers, i.e. the Scientific Advice Mechanism, the European Citizens’ Initiative Grow scientific progress, and also the collective of members of the German Greens Political Party, already echoed in this Journal. Now joins in the Union of European Academies for Sciences applied to Agriculture, Food and Nature (UEAA) who has recently released a Position Paper, dated 5 November 2020 “claiming that the Directive 2001/18 / EC has become unsuitable due to advances in scientific knowledge and recent technical advances such as genome editing and hence urges the E U Governance to review and adjust the European regulations on GMO’s to recent scientific progress” (https://ueaa.info/).
(1) GMOs and genome edited organisms (#GEOs): Regulatory and Geopolitical challenges. Catherine Regnault–Roger. march 2020. Fondation pour L’innovation politique, 56 pages http://www.fondapol.org/en/etudes-en/gmos-and-genome-edited-organisms-geos-regulatory-and-geopolitical-challenges/
(2) Les biotechnologies agricoles, une clé pour l’indépendance agro-alimentaire, Catherine Regnault-Roger, 1er septembre 2020, https://www.institutsapiens.fr/les-biotechnologies-agricoles-une-cle-pour-lindependance-agro-alimentaire/
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