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Ag giants pan EU decision to regulate gene-edited crops

Seed companies say Europe will miss out on important innovations and benefits

by Melody M. Bomgardner
August 1, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 32


This photo shows a flowering camelina plant, an oilseed crop.
Credit: Fornax/Wikimedia Commons
In the U.S., start-ups are using inexpensive CRISPR tools to develop crop traits like improved oil yield in camelina.

Two of the world’s largest agriculture firms, BASF and Bayer, say the recent European Union decision to strictly regulate gene-edited crops will cause Europe to lose out on innovative science and the practical benefits of improved plant varieties.

The July 25 ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice says CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies are a type of mutagenesis that does not occur naturally. For that reason, crops created with it are considered to be genetically modified organisms.

Such crops must be individually approved by the EU and member states and subject to tracing, labeling, and monitoring. In contrast, older forms of plant mutagenesis that use chemicals or ionizing radiation are not regulated due to their long safety record.

The move to regulate gene-edited crops will likely prevent them from being developed or grown in Europe, though they may be imported. The EU has approved only one GMO crop for cultivation: an herbicide-tolerant corn variety sold by Monsanto.

Bayer, which acquired Monsanto, and BASF are both based in Germany. The firms had already relocated most of their plant breeding scientists and infrastructure to the U.S. because of Europe’s historically anti-GMO stance. In a recent earnings call with analysts, BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller said the new gene editing tools are important for accelerating trait development and lowering costs.

Bayer says the EU decision is a watershed moment that will restrict consumers’ food choices and may cost them more money. In other parts of the world, gene editing “will enable plant breeders and farmers to better adapt to quickly changing climatic, environmental, and socioeconomic conditions,” says spokesperson Utz Klages.


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