Three decades into the agricultural biotechnology era, the USDA said on Thursday that it will exempt genetically engineered plants from pre-market reviews if they are unlikely to pose an environmental risk. Opponents of the move said it means "a majority of genetically engineered and gene-edited plants will now escape any oversight" by the USDA.
A government decision to deregulate gene-editing tools such as CRISPR met a last-stop challenge in the Australian Senate, with an organic farmers’ group expressing concerns that it will be “sacrificed for the sake of unregulated GMO tech.”
In its newest attempt to overhaul biotechnology rules adopted in 1987, the USDA said it would exempt new crop varieties created through techniques such as gene editing from regulatory review, so long as the modifications are similar to those achieved by traditional breeding and pose no plant-pest risks.
The relatively new field of gene editing is a form of genetic engineering, according to a European Court of Justice ruling that would make technology such as CRISPR subject to the same regulations as the “classical” genetic modification technology of the 1980s, reported BBC News.
Crops created by gene editing techniques such as CRISPR “might not need to be regulated by the strict European Union rules that govern genetically modified organisms,” said Nature, citing a formal opinion from an advocate general at the European Court of Justice.
One of the best-known scientists in the GMO world, Alison Van Eenennaam, “aims to create a bull that will father only male offspring” through a bit of gene editing with CRISPR, said MIT Technology Review.
The University of California has turned to the U.S. appeals court based in Washington, D.C., in a dispute with the Broad Institute over who owns the patents for the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR, says The Verge. "This means the heated battle over who owns one of the most revolutionary biotech inventions of our time will likely continue for months or even years from now," the report says.
The Agriculture Department will unveil today its proposal to update its regulatory framework of biotechnology. The plan is designed to speed up development of GE plants that do not pose a plant pest or weed risk, and to cover plants created through genome-editing techniques, such as CRISPR, if they pose plant pest or noxious-weed risk. At present, GE plants produced without the use of genetic sequences from plant pests — the traditional method of genetic modification — are not subject to federal biotechnology rules.
The second-largest seed company in the world, DuPont Pioneer, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, said they reached an agreement to jointly develop improved crops using the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR-Cas for smallholder farmers around the world. The agreement, announced at CIMMYT’s 50th anniversary conference in Mexico City, brings the new technology into the public breeding organization for the first time.