|Steven E. Cerier is an international economist and a frequent contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project.
Outside of the US, there’s been a lot of attention paid to what’s happening in Europe, where GMOs face considerable public and political opposition. This despite the fact that the European Union is a major importer of GM corn and soybeans for animal feed.
Most EU nations do not grow GMO crops for either human or animal consumption. As of 2016, only Spain, Portugal, Slovakia and the Czech Republic grew modest amounts of GM corn.
The European Academies Science Advisory Council has come out in favor of utilizing new gene-editing techniques to grow crops. But in 2015, the European Commission asked member states not to approve any CRISPR technology for crop cultivation until it had conducted a systematic review of the issue. The review, though, has been delayed.
Germany, in particular, has expressed considerable opposition toward GMOs, and now also plants developed via NBTs. In November 2016, for instance, German junior environment minister Jochen Flasbarth said:
The European Union should apply strict approval standards to new generations of gene-edited crops similar to those for genetically modified organisms…There is concern that without a strict approval process, plants with environmentally-dangerous properties could be allowed to spread without hindrance, hitting conventional farmers.
Some EU nations, however, appear to be more receptive to the growing of gene-edited crops. Sweden, in 2015, decided they did not have to be regulated, though the government indicated it would reverse its position if the EU disagreed. Finland has adopted a similar position, though unlike Sweden it has not conducted any gene-edited crop field trials. In September 2017, the Dutch government indicated that NBTs should not come under existing GMO legislation.
The best hope for NBTs in Europe may be in the UK, as it completes its departure from the EU. Some observers believe the island nation will be more tolerant of commercializing the technology. Among the groups already at work in the field is the John Innes Centre, which is developing a strain of barley that can make its own ammonium fertilizer from nitrogen in the soil. Professor Michael Bevan, a researcher at the John Innes Center, has warned about over-regulation of NBTs:
The EU Food Standards Agency has already be making pronouncements that they are going to classify anything that is not natural as GM. If they go ahead with such a decision, they will cut off many approaches for creating new foods and crops.
Here’s a look at how other nations are handling NBTs:
Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to last week’s article on the regulation of NBTs. There are plenty of efforts underway to paint gene editing with the same brush as GMOs though the science doesn’t support that; they are different. We support regulatory oversight of results and releases not breeding processes.