The EU must “reject dark anti-science scaremongering” ahead of a key vote on gene editing, 34 Nobel laureates have said.
In a open letter Shared with the Guardian and other European newspapers, the winners demanded that lawmakers relax strict rules on genetic modification to adopt new techniques that target specific genes and change their code. This technology could make crops more resistant to disease and more likely to survive extreme weather events, which are becoming more violent as the planet warms.
Scientists said old methods of breeding crops over years and decades took too long. “We don’t have this moment in a time of climate emergency,” they wrote.
The letter sent to MEPs on Friday was organized by WePlanet, a non-profit organization that advocates for technologies such as nuclear power, gene editing and cellular agriculture, as well as for the rewilding of the major part of Europe. The letter’s more than 1,000 signatories range from prominent biologists and geneticists – including scientists who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the Crispr “genetic scissors” at the heart of the debate – to famous authors such as psychologist Steven Pinker and the philosopher Peter. Singer.
Supporters say the new rules could help farmers use fewer pesticides and fertilizers. Some plants that are difficult to grow by conventional means – such as fruit trees, vines and potatoes – use some of the EU’s most harmful pesticides, scientists said.
For the most part, environmental groups have fiercely opposed efforts to change the genetic code of plants and other organisms, expressing fears about their safety and the danger of changes having unintended consequences. Proponents of these technologies, particularly those that are highly targeted, have argued that these risks pale in comparison to the known dangers of biodiversity loss, climate crisis and hunger. The European Food Safety Authority has found no new dangers from targeted gene editing of plants compared to conventional breeding.
But in 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that all gene-edited plants – whether targeted or not – were genetically modified organisms falling under EU GMO rules. The risks to the environment and human health cannot be established with certainty.
The European Commission has accepted that plants produced using new gene editing methods are GMOs, but wants to exempt them from existing safety rules, which supporters of the technology say are outdated and restrictive. Lawmakers on the House Environment Committee will vote on his plan Wednesday.
A previous open letter signed by a smaller group of scientists in December — including molecular biologists and geneticists, many of whom work for nonprofit groups — argued that the commission’s proposal should be “rejected or substantially revised.” because the safety of the environment and human health cannot be guaranteed. They called for all genetically modified plants to be subject to mandatory risk assessment on a case-by-case basis.