CRISPR conundrum: Strict European court ruling leaves food-testing labs without a plan

Scientists struggle to detect the unauthorized sale of gene-edited crops whose altered DNA can mimic natural mutations.

Sep 03, 2019
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A landmark European court ruling that made gene-edited crops subject to the same stringent regulations as other genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has created a conundrum for food-testing laboratories across Europe.

The ruling that the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) delivered on 25 July 2018 requires these scattered laboratories — which already spot-check freighters and supermarkets for foods that contain unapproved GMOs — to look for gene-edited crops. But there is no easy way to do this. Gene edits often alter just a few DNA letters, whereas conventional genetic modifications often involve transplanting longer stretches of DNA from one species to another.

“Some of these [gene-editing] alterations are small enough that they are simply indistinguishable from naturally occurring organisms,” says Martin Wasmer, who studies the legal aspects of genome editing at the Leibniz University Hannover, Germany. “It will not be possible to enforce in those cases.”

By: Heidi Ledford

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