162 organizations call for global gene drive moratorium

A broad coalition of 162 organizations has sent an open letter to Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission. It demands that plants and animals modified using new genetic engineering methods continue to be strictly regulated in the future. Furthermore, the EU Commission should support a global moratorium on gene drive organisms.

The existing EU genetic engineering standards ensure the implementation of the precautionary principle and protect the environment and consumers, wrote the organizations from the fields of environmental and consumer protection, agriculture and the food industry. Farmers and consumers would be free to choose whether to eat or grow genetically modified crops. The current occasion for the open letter is a study on the current status and future regulation of genetically modified organisms in the European Union (EU).  The governments of the European member states had asked the EU Commission in November 2019 to prepare such a study. It should take into account various aspects, including scientific progress, the legal situation, as well as a publication of the “European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies.” The European Commission has announced that they will publish the study at the end of April.

The authors of the letter to Timmermans and other members of the EU Commission also call on the Commission to ensure that the regulation of genetic engineering in the UK remains EU-compliant after Brexit. This is because the British government is currently planning to revise its genetic engineering legislation. As reported by Infodienst, it invited stakeholders to a consultation process at the beginning of the year, which ended in mid-March. The organizations are now calling on Timmermans to lobby the UK government to drop these plans. If genetically modified plants were to be less strictly regulated in the UK in the future, this would also affect the trade with the EU.

Finally, the 162 organizations call for the EU Commission to support a worldwide moratorium on the use of so-called gene drive organisms. Gene drive organisms result from a special application of new genetic engineering. This poses the risk that entire species of organisms could be severely decimated or wiped out. The European Parliament had already spoken out in favor of a global moratorium in January 2020 in the form of a petition. Especially in times of “ecological crisis, when a million species are threatened,” experiments with a technology that is also referred to as “extinction on demand” cannot be carried out, according to the justification.