THE GMO SCRAPBOOK: “GENETIC EDITING” ESCAPES REGULATIONS ...January 6, 2015
Ms. M.W., a regular reader here, sent me this article, and you'll note that it comes from no less a "reputable" source than The New York Times, and it's all about the latest tactic of agribusiness to avoid having to deal with (what little) government regulations as affect their "bottom line." The tactic is to use "genetic editing" rather than "genetic engineering," and it raises a number of new issues that we're probably going to be dealing with in 2015:
The key here is that genetic editing is not transgenic, a point made toward the end of the article:
"Other companies, including Cellectis, are using new genome-editing techniques that can change the plant’s existing DNA rather than insert foreign genes. Cibus, a privately held San Diego company, is beginning to sell herbicide-resistant canola developed this way.
“'With our technology, we can develop the same traits but in a way that’s not transgenic,' said Peter Beetham, chief executive of Cibus, using a term for a plant containing foreign genes. Regulators around the world are now grappling with whether these techniques are even considered genetic engineering and how, if at all, they should be regulated."
And the tactic is elegant, for it can appeal to natural processes and even appear as but the latest technological "assist" to agronomy selective breeding practices:
"Some researchers argue that using genome editing to inactivate a gene in a plant, or to make a tiny change in an existing gene, results in a crop no different from what could be obtained through natural mutations and conventional breeding, though it is achieved more quickly.
“'Those are basically comparable to what you get from conventional breeding,' said Neal Gutterson, vice president for agricultural biotechnology at DuPont Pioneer, a seed company. “We certainly hope that the regulatory agencies recognize that and treat the products accordingly.”
"The gene editing, they argue, is also more directed and precise than the existing technique of exposing plants to radiation or chemicals to induce random mutations in hopes of generating a desirable change. This technique has been used for decades and is not regulated, even though it can potentially cause unknown and unintended changes to crops."
But as the New York Times article is honest enough to admit, even this does not really amount to the same thing, for
"... critics of biotech crops say the genome-editing techniques can make changes in plant DNA other than the intended one. Also, the gene editing is typically done on plant cells or plant tissues growing in a dish. The process of then turning those genetically altered cells or tissues into a full plant can itself induce mutations."
So in other words, behind the rhetoric and even the fact that this is a distinct technology different from the transgenic methods previously used to create GMOS, what we end up with is still a GMO, just not a transgenic one, but one with the possibility of unintended mutations...
... and like the transgenic GMO, that carries with it the possibility of unintended human health and larger environmental consequences that are also unintended. The new technology, in other words, is driving a change in operational tactics from agribusiness, and it will have to similarly drive a change in tactics from the community skeptical and critical of GMOs.
What will be of interest here - if my prediction that the BRICSA nations will, if they're smart, attempt to make the GMO issue a geopolitical one - is to see whether Russia or China will also address this new technique in their studies. Thus far, as regular readers of this site are aware, they have been conducting studies of GMOs, studies often critical of the underlying assumptions of GMO trustworthiness that have basically subverted argiculture in the West. If my prediction holds true, then we should expect to see, over the next year or two, similar such studies coming from those countries, addressing human health and environmental concerns with the new genetic editing techniques.
See you on the flip side...