News

2019-07-09 |

The EU must not de-regulate gene-edited crops and foods

Some members of the outgoing EU Commission and the agbiotech lobby want the regulations governing genetically modified crops and foods relaxed or scrapped to open markets for gene-edited products. But this goes against the science underpinning the technology and could put the public and environment at risk, writes Dr Michael Antoniou.

Dr Michael Antoniou is molecular geneticist at King’s College London

Some members of the outgoing European Commission want to change the EU legislation on genetically modified (GM) foods and crops to accommodate the products of new gene-editing techniques, often called “new plant breeding techniques” or NBTs.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said DG SANTE “has already prepared the ground for a new initiative on gene editing to overhaul the current GMO legislation”. The “initiative” will be taken up by the new Commission after this year’s elections.

2019-06-28 |

EFSA gene drive working group fails independence test

Gene drive, a new genetic engineering technique potentially as powerful as it is controversial, is undergoing regulatory evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). But as a majority of experts tasked to assess the technology’s potential risks have financial links with organisations developing the technology, the assessment is mired in conflicts of interest. Time for the EU Parliament to increase the pressure on the agency to tighten its independence policy.

Obvious and serious conflicts of interest are still not in the past for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): a look at the agency’s working group on the risks associated to the gene drive technology makes this quite clear. Two-thirds of its members have financial links with organisations developing this technology. For instance, two of the appointed experts are receiving funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which in turn funds lobby work in favour of the technology. Even according to EFSA’s own, rather weak, independence policy, one of these appointments should not have been made due to obvious conflicts of interest.

So why did EFSA put together such a problematic expert panel on an issue that is this sensitive? The agency has defended its choices, stating that the appointments are compliant with its independence rules – a claim which is in one case is simply incorrect. Apart from showing that EFSA does not therefore seem to properly implement its own rules, the fact that several other grave conflicts of interest did not even trigger the policy demonstrates that there are still severe loopholes.

After so many years of EFSA’s poor implementation and partial disregard of repeated EU Parliament requests to fix its independence policy, wouldn’t it be time for Parliamentarians to step up the pressure on this EU agency?

2019-06-26 |

Opposition against patent on salmon and trout

26 June 2019 / A broad coalition of over 30 organizations backed by over 5000 individual supporters have today filed an opposition against a patent on salmon and trout (EP1965658). They are asking for the patent to be revoked in its entirety since they do not consider it to be a technical invention but simply patented plagiarism.

The patent claims salmon and trout reared with selected plants to increase the level of unsaturated fatty acids in their muscle tissue. These fatty acids are considered beneficial to human health. The selected plants used in the salmon feed include common wild herbs and flowering plants e.g. borage and species of echium, or others such as evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and black currants (Ribes nigrum). However, there is nothing new about these plants showing naturally high concentrations of suitable fatty acids.
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No patents on seeds! is calling for politicians to take responsibility and to change the law if necessary. In future, it should be made impossible to grant patents on conventionally bred plants and animals. It is feared that these patents will primarily serve the interests of large corporations, such as Bayer, who will ultimately take control of agriculture and food production.

2019-06-17 |

New GMOs: Coming to your dinner plate soon?

Did you think GM crops and foods had pretty much gone away in Europe? Now they’re set to return.

If lobbyists get their way, new genetically modified (GM) crops, foods, and farm animals will appear in our fields and on our dinner plates – with few or no safety checks and no labelling.

These new GM crops and foods are produced with so-called gene-editing techniques. Gene-edited organisms already developed include super-muscled pigs (similar to the one in the image above), a non-browning mushroom, and a soybean that produces altered fats.

GMO companies are also planning to market a new generation of gene-edited herbicide-tolerant crops, including wheat. These plants are engineered to survive being sprayed with large amounts of toxic herbicides, such as those based on glyphosate.

Gene-editing techniques are often called “New Breeding Techniques” (NBTs). But they are not breeding techniques. They are artificial laboratory GM techniques that result in the production of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

2019-06-12 |

Patent applications covering ‘seeds to meat’ and from ‘maize to milk’

Patent on salmon and trout is not just an isolated case

12 June 2019 / The patent granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) covering salmon and trout reared on specific plants (EP1965658) could now become a precedent for many other patent applications. Recent research shows several similar European patent applications are already pending, claiming food products, such as meat and milk, derived from animals fed with selected plants.

The patent on salmon and trout was granted in October 2018 and recently brought to public attention by “No Patents on Seeds!”. The patent monopoly covers the rearing and feeding of the fish, along with the fish itself. After learning of this case, No Patents on Seeds! researched similar patent applications. This research came to an alarming conclusion: there are several other European patent applications recently filed at the World Patent Institute (WIPO), all following a similar strategy. Starting with plants and feed, also the food products derived from farm animals are claimed as inventions.

For example, Syngenta not only claims genetically engineered maize as its ‘invention’ but also the production of milk and meat from animals fed with such plants: In patent WO2018204245, “a harvested cattle carcass” is part of the invention; and patent WO2019075028 claims a “method of increasing the amount of milk produced by a dairy animal”. While these patents rely on transgenic maize, others such as the patent on salmon also claim usage of conventionally bred plants.

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