Nobel Prize winners urge EU to ease restrictions on genetic modification.
Before a crucial vote on gene editing, 34 Nobel laureates have urged the EU to “reject the destructive influence of fear-mongering against scientific advancements.”
Several Nobel Prize winners wrote a public letter, which was published in the Guardian and other European newspapers, urging lawmakers to loosen regulations on genetic modification. They want to utilize new methods that can pinpoint and modify specific genes, which could potentially enhance crop resilience against disease and extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.
The researchers stated that traditional techniques of cultivating crops over extended periods of time are no longer feasible. They emphasized that in light of the current climate crisis, quick action is necessary.
The letter sent to MEPs on Friday was organised by WePlanet, an environmental nonprofit that campaigns for technologies like nuclear power, gene editing and cellular agriculture, as well as rewilding most of Europe. The more than 1,000 signatories to the letter range from leading biologists and geneticists – including the scientists who won a Nobel prize for discovering the Crispr “genetic scissors” at the heart of the debate – to celebrity authors such as the psychologist Steven Pinker and philosopher Peter Singer.
The new regulations could potentially benefit farmers by reducing their usage of pesticides and fertilizers. According to scientists, certain crops that are typically difficult to cultivate using traditional methods, such as fruit trees, grape vines, and potatoes, often require the use of the most toxic pesticides in the EU.
Most environmental groups have strongly opposed altering the genetic makeup of plants and other organisms, citing concerns about safety and potential unintended consequences. However, supporters of these technologies, especially precise ones, argue that the risks are minimal compared to the already known dangers of biodiversity loss, climate change, and food insecurity. According to the European Food Safety Authority, targeted gene editing in plants does not present any new hazards when compared to traditional breeding methods.
In 2018, the European court of justice made a decision stating that any plants created through gene manipulation, regardless of the intent, are considered genetically modified organisms and must adhere to the EU’s GMO regulations. The court emphasized that the potential risks to both the environment and human health cannot be definitively determined.
The European Commission has acknowledged that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) created through novel gene editing techniques fall under the category of GMOs. However, they are proposing to exempt them from the current safety regulations, which proponents of the technology argue are outdated and limiting. The parliament’s environment committee will make a decision on this proposal on Wednesday.
In December, a group of scientists, including molecular biologists and geneticists from nonprofit organizations, wrote an open letter expressing their concern over the commission’s proposal. They stated that the proposal should either be rejected or significantly altered because it cannot ensure the safety of the environment and human health. They also requested that all gene-edited plants undergo a mandatory risk assessment on an individual basis.