14 governments and regional bodies from across developed and developing countries, released a statement calling for joint cooperation on precision biotechnology, including genome editing techniques, to help address global agricultural challenges. Specifically, they call for coordination efforts “to ensure that the regulatory approaches for these techniques (…) are scientifically based and internationally harmonized.”
The statement comes amidst growing recognition that such techniques are important tools that can help address pest and disease pressures and other global challenges, such as food and nutrition security, climate change, and environmental threats, but that regulatory hurdles and differences between countries pose considerable challenges. The signatories note that “government policies must continue to foster innovation, including in the public sector and by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and mitigate unintended, unnecessary barriers to the entry of agricultural products.” They also note that differing domestic regulatory approaches for products derived from precision biotechnology may result in “international asynchronicity in approvals (…) and create potential trade issues that could impede innovation.”
Responding to the statement, CropLife International, representing the plant science industry at global level, noted that “a globally harmonized approach to precision biotechnology will ensure the timely and predictable introduction of safe and sustainable agricultural products to the marketplace, while minimizing trade disruptions.”
Unfortunately, in Europe, a recent Court of Justice of the EU ruling, which impacts modern genome editing techniques using mutagenesis, could lead to a de facto ban of genome edited crops, essentially rendering them equal to highly regulated genetically modified organisms (GMOs), even when the developed products are similar to those obtainable through conventional breeding. Leading European scientists and some decision makers are concerned about the situation and are calling for action to help ensure that agricultural innovation, including genome edited crops, can reach farmers and consumers.