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August 21st, 2018 / Genetic Literacy Project, US

At the same time as Swedish agriculture is affected by the worst drought in recent memory, the European Court of Justice has made a decisive decision that will have far-reaching consequences for Swedish agriculture beyond this hot summer. [On July 25th], it was decided that crops in which targeted mutations are created using the genome editing tool CRISPR should be considered as genetically modified (GM) plants.

The decision is not only tragic for European plant research and plant breeding. It also consolidates a broader pattern that has become evident in recent years: agricultural research’s focus and applications are increasingly governed by ideas or schools of thought formed by environmental groups but lack scientific foundation. Increasingly, therefore, agricultural research involves scientifically dead questions or ideologically formulated questions without scientific depth.

The choice was to either regulate CRISPR plants in the same way as crops in which mutations are induced by radiation or mutagenic chemicals, or to regulate them as GM plants. From a scientific point of view, this is a dead question, a non-question with about the same dignity as the question of whether the pope had a beard or not. A mutation is a mutation, whether spontaneously encountered, induced by radiation, or developed by a targeted technique.

However, the issue is highly relevant to research policy: Since the court followed the opinion of environmental groups – contrary to a unanimous research community – CRISPR technology will now be subject to EU’s strict GM legislation. The burden that has long been resting on modern plant research in Europe is thus expanded to cover another promising technology. Read more