EU urged to ease restrictions on genetic modification by Nobel laureates

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Genetic engineering, GMO and Gene manipulation

A group of 34 Nobel prize winners has called on the European Union (EU) to relax its strict rules on genetic modification. In an open letter, the laureates argued that lawmakers should embrace new techniques that target specific genes and edit their code. These technologies have the potential to create crops that are more disease-resistant and capable of withstanding extreme weather events caused by climate change. The scientists argued that traditional breeding methods are too slow for the current climate emergency.

The letter, organized by environmental nonprofit WePlanet, was sent to Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Friday. The letter’s signatories include more than 1,000 scientists, biologists, and geneticists, as well as notable figures such as psychologist Steven Pinker and philosopher Peter Singer. WePlanet advocates for technologies like gene editing, nuclear power, and cellular agriculture, as well as rewilding efforts in Europe.

Supporters of relaxing rules on genetic modification argue that it could help farmers reduce their use of pesticides and fertilizers. Some crops, such as fruit trees, grape vines, and potatoes, currently rely on harmful pesticides in the EU. However, environmental groups have strongly opposed altering the genetic code of plants and organisms, voicing concerns about safety and unintended consequences. Supporters of the technology believe that these risks are minor compared to the known dangers of biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, and food scarcity. The European Food Safety Authority has found no new hazards from targeted gene editing in plants compared to conventional breeding techniques.

In 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that any plants produced by genetically modifying genes, regardless of whether they are targeted or not, are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) subject to EU GMO regulations. The court cited uncertainties regarding environmental and human health risks as the basis for its decision. The European Commission accepts that gene-edited plants fall under GMO rules but seeks to exempt them from existing safety regulations, which proponents argue are outdated and restrictive. The parliament’s environment committee will vote on the commission’s proposal on Wednesday.

A previous open letter signed by a smaller group of scientists in December called for the rejection or revision of the commission’s proposal, citing concerns about the safety of the environment and human health. The letter argued for a mandatory risk assessment for all gene-edited plants on a case-by-case basis.

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