European Union, Food | A new EU proposal could force gene editing in Norway

European Union, Food |  A new EU proposal could force gene editing in Norway

Potatoes can develop diseases that make them inedible. But now you can change the genes in potatoes so that they become resistant to diseases using what is called CRISPR technology.

– It is one of the many methods that aim to strengthen genes, as happens in traditional breeding. But you do it faster and more precisely with Crispr, says molecular biologist Sigrid Pratley, director of the Genetic Technology Project at the NCE Heidner Biocluster.

Pratley received his PhD from the Institute of Cancer Research and is also a member of the Genetic Engineering Committee.

– It takes a few decades to do this traditionally.

copy and paste

She says Norwegian potato producers will use CRISPR to make potatoes resistant to fungal dry rot.

– They could theoretically cross it, but it would take several decades. Resistance genes are already present in potatoes in South America, among other things. But with CRISPR, they can copy genes without traditional hybridization, which takes a long time.

Copy and paste genes, that is. This technology is also described as scissors that can cut and cut pieces of DNA in living organisms.

– The power of this is that you can make multiple changes at the same time. It can be used as an alternative to traditional breeding techniques, but is more accurate. It will also be cheaper.

– Ensures better crops

Last summer, the European Commission put forward a new proposal for regulations in this area. If adopted in Brussels, it will have significance in Norway as well.

This proposal was recently approved by a new body, the European Union Parliament. It will be possible to adapt EU directives and regulations to Norwegian law.

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– This will ensure better yields and will require less fertilizers and pesticides. I hope that member states will introduce the rules and give farmers the tools they need to go green, says Swedish Member of Parliament Jessica Bullgård (Moderaterna) in a speech. Press release from the European Parliament.

But on the sidelines, there are also proposals from the Norwegian Genetic Engineering Commission, which are close to the EU proposals. They presented the report Genetic Engineering in a Sustainable Future, which was put out for consultation. The deadline expired at the end of February.

One difference from the EU proposal is that the genetic engineering committee includes all living organisms, i.e. animals, not just the plants with which the EU is initially working. But they are also now working on recommendations for rules for animal gene editing, which are expected to be released within a year or two.

We recommended relaxing the rules for using technology in all types of living organisms. Pratley says livestock farming is an important part of the green transition.

Unintended consequences

Several hundred Organizations, institutions and individuals played a role in the consultation in Norway.

Many say no, while others say it's important to be careful. One is the Norwegian Society for Nature Conservation, which along with several other organizations sent input. They are worried.

– When you allow uncontrolled and risk-assessed releases into nature, we can have unintended consequences for the ecosystem, says Commander Trolls Gullussen of the Nature Conservation Society.

-There is always a risk in gene editing.

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However, the Nature Conservancy believes that the Norwegian proposal is more radical than the one that came from the European Union.

– Such as artificial intelligence

The Farmers Association is also crucial.

– Confidence in Norwegian food production must come first. We must follow the EU where we must, and retain where we can. Great emphasis must be placed on sustainability, social benefit and ethics, says leader Björn Gemming of the Norwegian Farmers Association.

Gaming also says that emphasis should be placed on independent risk assessment and rules are evaluated as experience is gained.

This is a powerful technology that must be organized to serve society as a whole, and to be able to contribute to the desired development.

The Bundelage leader compares his view to the debate around artificial intelligence.

– Very few people dispute this point when artificial intelligence is on the agenda. This should be equally important when it comes to GMOs.

– The incidental argument

Pratley has heard these arguments many times before. She believes that you should listen to the professional environment, which says that it does not see any danger in this tool compared to traditional plants.

“You're using alternative professional motivations for something you don't want politically,” Pratley says. When you want to achieve something political in a field as loaded with topics as this, you have to have a professional argument, Pratley says.

This is why the conversation often revolves around risk, because it is the trump card in professionalism. But instead of listening to the majority of professionals at the international level who say that the risks of genetically modified foods are no different from conventional foods, neither to health nor to the environment, the Swedish Union for Conservation of Nature and others in their consultations have chosen to cherry-pick articles and arguments that say otherwise. Which supports their decades-long political opposition to genetic engineering.

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Pratley compares this to other debates, around vaccines and climate change for example. She believes that this contributes to weakening confidence in research and science.

A strict precautionary approach is legitimate when the knowledge base is weak, but when knowledge is available, it must be trusted. Science never provides 100% sure answers, but it is the best tool we have for making truly informed choices. Therefore, knowledge should shape policy, not the other way around.

Important tools

Pratley says there is a great need for this technology.

We are missing significant and important progress in adapting food to climate change, increasing infection pressure, and antibiotic resistance. Food systems face significant challenges and we need innovation to solve this problem.

Technology like this is among the best tools.

We have to trust existing knowledge.

Then Pratley adds:

– There can of course be challenges associated with gene editing, but it is a question of how it is used, not the technology itself. For example, livestock farming businesses, regardless of whether they involve conventional breeding or genetic modification, should be subject to strict rules regarding animal welfare, but in a technology-neutral manner.

Hanisi Anenih

Hanisi Anenih

"Web specialist. Lifelong zombie maven. Coffee ninja. Hipster-friendly analyst."

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