USDA has already approved six organisms engineered with CRISPR

Already six organisms engineered with CRISPR are allowed by USDA

18 January 2018 / The US is currently authorising more and more genetically engineered products without putting any effective controls in place; regardless of whether old or new methods of genetic engineering are used. The first genetically engineered apples appeared on US supermarket shelves in 2017. Sliced and packed in plastics, the so-called “Arctic” apples are engineered to still look fresh even if they are not. These apples were developed using earlier methods of genetic engineering. No labelling is required. Very soon the first genetically engineered organisms created with new methods of genetic engineering could also be marketed in the US. Some of these have already been approved by the US Department for Agriculture but are not yet on the market: they include maize and mushrooms approved in 2016, and camelina, soybeans and grasses approved in 2017. Just recently, in January 2018, another maize produced by DuPont was approved.

These organisms were all genetically engineered using so-called `gene scissors´, CRISPR-Cas. There are no labelling requirements for these foods and seeds, and they have not been subjected to detailed risk assessment – the same is true for the genetically engineered apples.

“The US are largely ignoring risks associated with genetically engineered organisms. It is similar to the way that the current US government is dealing with the risks of climate change,” Christoph Then says for Testbiotech. “The EU now has to make clear that methods of identification and detailed risk assessment are needed, no matter whether the organisms are derived from old or new methods of genetic engineering. If gaps in current regulation emerge, politicians will have to take action.”

In the US, no detailed data were requested for the approval of these organisms; therefore, the risks of these products cannot be assessed by independent experts. Furthermore, no methods of identification are available because for most of the organisms, no detailed information is available on changes in the genome. This development can also impact EU markets because if there are no methods of identification there will be substantial obstacles in tracing the products if they enter the EU.

Indications of loopholes in EU regulation might emerge from the EU Court of Justice today; the attorney general is due to explain his position on how current GMO regulations should be applied to the new methods of genetic engineering.