Gene Editing

E.U. Regulators Can't Detect the Gene-Edited Crops They Banned

The difference between two identical genes—one edited and the other a natural mutation—is entirely metaphysical.

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The European Court of Justice ruled last summer that the European Union's absurd regulatory scheme for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be applied to gene-edited crops. Such regulations, however, are scientifically nonsensical. GMO crops (typically modified by adding genes from other organisms)and gene-edited crops (using techniques like CRISPR to modify genes already in the crop variety) are safe for people and for the environment. Such crops need no more regulation than do crops created via conventional techniques such as crossbreeding or random mutation by blasting them with ionizing radiation and harsh chemicals.

Now foods labs are telling would-be E.U. regulators that there are no tests that can reliably distinguish between gene-edited and conventional crop varieties. Why? Because many of the edited genes are indistinguishable from those in naturally occurring organisms. Consequently, E.U. regulators are worried that gene-edited horrors from the U.S., such as Calyxt's healthy high-oleic-acid oil or Intrexon's non-browning lettuce, might sneak into European supermarkets undetected.

Before gene-editing, plant breeders would first identify a useful gene in a landrace variety, e.g., mildew resistance, and then onerously crossbreed generation after generation to transfer the gene into a more productive commercial variety. Biotechnologists can now induce mildew resistance by simply editing a few DNA pairs in the corresponding gene in the commercial variety to match the ones found naturally in the landrace.

In contrast to the bioluddites in Europe, regulators in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, and Australia have sensibly declared that they do not intend to regulate edited crops with mutations that could have occurred in nature.

Hermann Broll, a researcher in the Department of Food Safety at the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, according to Nature, noted that even if food testing labs could find the edits, regulators would still struggle to prove that the DNA variant they've identified is the result of gene editing, rather than a natural mutation. "I do not have a clue as to the solution—and I have not seen anywhere any clue yet," said Broll.

Here's a suggestion: Go back to the European Court of Justice and urge the judges to overturn their metaphysical ruling, which found that one of two identical genes must be regulated if it happens as a result of editing, while the other escapes administrative scrutiny if it is a natural or radiation-induced mutation.

NEXT: Gorsuch and Kagan Clash Over Judicial Deference to the Administrative State

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  1. E.U. Regulators Can’t Detect the Gene-Edited Crops They Banned

    This merely stresses the importance of the ban.

    1. Well then just to be safe, we’ll have to ban all crops.

      /EU regulators

    2. Next, undetectable designer babies…

  2. Intrexon’s non-browning lettuce,

    Racist.

    1. Radicchio and other lettuces of color bear the brunt of such discrimination.

      1. I’d think they would have the most to gain. Red lettuces tend to wilt and brown faster.

  3. Here’s a suggestion: Go back to the European Court

    WHOAH WHOAH, RON, TAP THE BRAKES HERE!

    1. How about the people of Europe grow a pair and vote out legislators who are protecting local farmers through these regulations…

      Yeah, that’s all it is really about. The US (and some other producers, but primarily the US) out-competes local EU farmers in productivity by large margins. So absent protectionist “regulations”, the EU would lose a lot of market share to foreign producers, largely in the US.

      But yeah, run to the Kangaroo Court they’ve set up to enforce their cartel…. see how well that works out for you. The same courts that ruled that you can’t say “hey, that guy was convicted of child molestation 15 years ago” on line – because he has a right to be forgotten. Yeah, sure…. that’ll work.

  4. Here’s a better suggestion: ignore the fools. They’ve asked you to ban invisible pink elephants. OK. I know how I’d comply.

    1. You should know how this works. When they want to turn the screws, they’ll just claim you have pink elephants and it’ll be up to you to prove you don’t.

      1. Yes, but …..

        Actually, the ruling will be easy to enforce because the imported food will have brand names and manufacturer names plastered all over it. They don’t have to test the product. The labels will tell the tale.

    2. Genealogical Forgery. Since they can’t detect natural or induced mutations from recombinant ones you can simply fabricate the intervening generations that would be required get from native to engineered/modified. Not only does it create *more* GMOs it has broader applicability beyond simple GMO crops.

      This idea just occurred to me, but something tells me that this is already an industry in China.

      1. That’s actually a brilliant idea. I fully expect most organic “GMO free” to have such pedigrees within ten years or so. Just like the prototypical tale of buying carrots at the market, rubbing some dirt on them then selling them at the farmer’s market.

  5. Actually, there is a test: let the lettuce go brown then the agency knows it can be safely sold.

    1. l: I like how you think! 😉

  6. If politicians were smart enough to understand science, they’d have useful jobs, like genetically modifying crops to help feed the worlds 7.5 billion people.

    1. They wouldn’t have to be smart enough to understand science. A McDonald’s assistant manager is a useful job, but doesn’t require much intelligence. However, I suspect character flaws would ensure most politicians would soon be fired from that job.

  7. As absurd as it is, I find it really tough to muster up any type of shit whatever about what some luddite in a Euro court thinks about anything.

    1. There are about a half-billion people that cannot ignore the dictates of EU politicians, courts, and bureaucrats – and most of them never got a chance to vote on joining the EU, nor do elections change the course of the EU.

  8. The real danger I see in gene-edited crops is the danger of patent
    pollution. Companies such as Bayer (Monsanto) will stop at nothing to
    make farmers dependent on seeds they are not allowed to reproduce.
    They have done it for transgenic crops, and they will do it with
    CRISPR crops if we don’t stop them.

    See stallman.org/articles/biopiracy.html.

    1. By “dependant”, you mean they couldn’t possibly make as much money using conventional crops and they therefore choose to buy the gene edited crops of their own free will.

      1. There’s more to that argument. You see, plants like to pollinate. So let’s say you are not growing genuine Walmart brand soybeans. But your neighbor is.

        And each year you take some of your best producing plants and use the seed for next years crop – as has been done for, well, since the beginning of agriculture some 12,000+ years ago.

        Now, some of your neighbor’s Walmart brand soybean pollen gets into your fields. And his Walmart brand GMO enhancements make the next generation of your crops a little better, so you use those seeds. And so on. And so on….

        Now Walmart comes after you for stealing their seeds. Because their DNA markers are in your crops.

        This is what has happened with some GMO plants in the past. Like BT corn, or roundup ready crops.

        The BT corn is the first tough case, because it isn’t that easy to prove intent (unlike the roundup case, where you know you are spraying roundup on your crops).

        The courts have provided an enforcement mechanism for these companies that hurts small farmers who do it the old-fashioned way.

        But the only other way to do it would be to have the GMO have a kill switch that prevents second generation seeds from germinating. Which is a pretty risky scheme in its own right… ( now pollen from your GMO corn could wipe out your neighbor’s seed crop).

        It is a pretty complex problem.

        1. Or the laws and courts could simply disallow patent enforcement for a genome except where the patent-holder can prove that the genes were deliberately spread.

    2. Richard Stallman
      July.24.2019 at 2:03 am
      “The real danger I see in gene-edited crops is the danger of patent
      pollution….”

      Which is not a problem with the crops at all.

  9. MO crops (typically modified by adding genes from other organisms)and gene-edited crops (using techniques like CRISPR to modify genes already in the crop variety) are safe for people and for the environment.

    Safety isn’t the only justification for regulating or prohibiting gene editing of crops. If you want to argue against anti-GMO regulations, you need to up your game because “it’s safe therefore there is no justification for regulating it” doesn’t cut it.

    1. Really? What would be the reason for banning a safe product?

    2. “Safety isn’t the only justification for regulating or prohibiting gene editing of crops. If you want to argue against anti-GMO regulations, you need to up your game because “it’s safe therefore there is no justification for regulating it” doesn’t cut it.”

      If you want to argue *for* regulating GMOs, you’re going to have to come up with something other than that pile of bullshit.

      1. If you want to argue *for* regulating GMOs

        In fact, I want to argue against regulating GMOs. I’m just lamenting the fact that “libertarians” are such idiots when it comes to actually making persuasive arguments to statists. That includes both Reason’s authors and you.

        1. When have the anti-GMO politicians and bureaucrats given any other reason for banning GMO crops?

          Maybe their real reason is not “I’m an ignorant fool who was panicked into believing this contrary to all scientific evidence”, but rather:

          1. I object to people having more and healthier food, or
          2. I enjoy having the power to make arbitrary and irrational decisions and force other people to obey, especially when children starve.

          Please find where they’ve admitted to one of these reasons and publicize it. I’d be interested in finding out what it takes to remind Europeans of their traditions of shortening tyrants by a head.

  10. Just wait until the good stuff hits. So far they’ve been playing around the edges.

    Scientists are working on transplanting photosynthetic pathways from other types of plants into food crops. This has the potential to boost the amount of energy harvested from sunlight by 30%.

    So…. a 30% bump in production per plant. 30% more food per acre. That’s the potential. So the same arable land goes from feeding 7 billion people to 9 billion people, simply by planting the same crops, only with genetic modifications to improve their photosynthetic pathways.

    1. Just wait until the good stuff hits. So far they’ve been playing around the edges.

      Scientists are working on transplanting photosynthetic pathways from other types of plants into food crops. This has the potential to boost the amount of energy harvested from sunlight by 30%.

      I’ve personally transformed mammalian cell lines with bacteriorhodopsin, effectively making mammalian mitochondria photosynthetic. Figuring out how to feed these sweat filled flesh bags into immortality is for chumps.

  11. So why do greeny progressives faint at the idea of “meddling with nature” when it comes to farming, but get stiffies about meddling with the natural economy?

    1. Because they are science deniers. Beyond that, they deny rational thought and reality.

  12. “The difference between two identical genes—one edited and the other a natural mutation—is entirely metaphysical.”

    Similarly, the term ‘mother earth’ is also a religious statement.

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