Thirteen nations call for ag policies supporting gene editing

By Joan Conrow

November 5, 2018

Thirteen nations have used the forum of the World Trade Organization to present a position paper supporting policies that advance agricultural innovation, including genome editing.

The United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Paraguay, Uruguay, Vietnam and the Secretariat of the Economic Community of West African States all supported the International Statement on Agricultural Applications of Precision Biotechnology. It was presented to the WTO’s Committee on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures in Geneva last week.

The position paper calls for applying “science- and risk-based approaches” to regulating genome editing and other new breeding techniques for agricultural products. “Due consideration should be given to available scientific and technical information when updating existing regulatory frameworks or applying these frameworks to products of precision biotechnology, and when using available flexibility within existing regulatory frameworks for agricultural products,” the paper stated.

The statement counters a recent European Union Court of Justice ruling that puts gene editing in the same category as genetically modified organisms, which are subject to zealous and expensive regulations. The US and other nations have criticized that ruling, saying it’s based in regressive and outdated regulations, stymies innovation and has global trade implications.

The statement directly addressed those trade concerns:

“Governments are engaging in policy discussions on regulatory frameworks and global regulatory compatibility to encourage cross-border research collaboration and minimize potential disruptions to trade. Differing domestic regulatory approaches for products derived from precision biotechnology may result not only in international asynchronicity in approvals, but also in asymmetry in regulatory approaches, and create potential trade issues that could impede innovation.”

US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a statement announcing support for the position paper:

“Precision biotechnologies such as genome editing hold great promise for both farmers and consumers around the world. These tools can play a critical role in helping farmers address many of the production challenges they face while improving the quality and nutritional value of foods available to consumers worldwide.

“Unfortunately, such technologies too often face regulatory roadblocks that are based on misinformation and political posturing. Therefore, it’s gratifying to see Argentina and other allies come together under the WTO umbrella to publicly embrace science-based regulatory systems that will allow us to unlock the huge potential of these new technologies.”

The US Department of State added its endorsement:

“We will continue to engage foreign governments, industry, and consumers through our embassies abroad on these important technologies. By joining this diverse group of countries in embracing safe technologies, we give our farmers and ranchers the tools and support they need to address the global challenges we face in the 21st century to produce abundant food, feed, fiber, and energy.”

Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay also spoke in favor of the international statement:

“We are committed to supporting agricultural innovation, here in Canada and abroad, recognizing its essential role in growing prosperous economies. We are sending a strong message that we stand ready to work with our global partners in support of transparent, predictable and science-based regulatory approaches to reduce potential trade disruptions and allow for the commercialization of precision biotechnology products.”

The statement, which continues to pick up supporters, urged other nations to take a more collaborative approach, while emphasizing the need for public outreach:

“Given the differences internationally in approaches used to assess agricultural biotechnology, due consideration should be exercised by governments to avoid arbitrary and unjustifiable distinctions between end products derived from precision biotechnology and similar end products obtained through other production methods.

“Public communication efforts can build trust in regulatory frameworks and improve the acceptability of future agricultural innovations that will help farmers address global challenges with a view to the production of abundant, safe and affordable food, feed, fibres, and energy in the 21st century.”