Crop Biotech Update

Experts Address Top Perceived Risks of Genome-Edited Crops

April 20, 2022

Analysis of the top concerns and risks associated with genome-edited crops finds that these are comparable to risks associated with accepted, past and current breeding methods. However, the full potential of genome-edited crops cannot be realized if regulatory, legal, and trade framework, as well as the granting of a social license, are not clarified and addressed.

One of the main benefits of genome editing in crops is that it can deliver improved varieties to smallholder farmers at a faster pace. Past studies have shown that using genome editing has cut the development phase of improved varieties by about two-thirds while significantly decreasing if not eliminating the linkage drag caused by non-elite residual genes from the donor parent. Possible risks are still the main concern as to why genome-edited crops are not yet fully accepted by the public. An international team of experts identified the top seven risks concerning genome-edited crops and addressed them one by one:

  1. Non-target edits leading to mutations that compromise safety or the crop's agronomic performance. This is addressed by continuous improvement of genome editing tools and techniques to mitigate and reduce the likelihood of non-target edit occurrence.
  2. Genome editing breaks natural protective barriers to prevent some mutations occurring in nature. Extensive field evaluations are conducted to select crops more superior to current varieties and deliver them to farmers.
  3. Inadequate stewardship. Molecular tools can be used to show that the transgenic intermediate has been resolved in the lab and greenhouse before field trials, with country-appropriate stewardship for edited crops.
  4. Enhanced inequity between multinational corporations and large-scale farmers, and smallholder farmers. Ensure that the genome editing technology remains accessible to those who will use it to democratize its benefits, especially for resource-poor farmers and consumers.
  5. Lack of transparency. Create an easily accessible registry that technology developers can disclose the use of genome editing technologies and meet the public's interest on how specific foods are produced.
  6. Lack of resolution about the intellectual property ownership. Identify and follow models that advance new varieties through national agricultural research programs, and local and global seed companies that cater to smallholder farmers.
  7. Inadequate public sector institutional infrastructures to support the use of genome editing technologies. Innovation for infrastructure varies significantly, depending on institutional frameworks. Projects, institutes, strategic alliances and explicit biotech and bioeconomy policies can help overcome some of the environmental factors that limit the full scale use of genome-edited crops.

To conclude the analysis, it was recommended to create appropriate policies and grant social licenses to support the use of genome editing technology and crops to help improve the target beneficiaries.

Read the full paper in Nature Genetics.

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