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Do GE developers really know what they are doing?

New Zealand consumers will be left in the dark about foods grown in Australia that have been created using gene editing techniques. On the 13 November the Australian Senator Rice put up a motion to disallow, or overturn, the recently passed Gene Technology Amendment Regulations 2019 that allows the gene editing of animals, plants and microorganisms without them needing to go through the regulatory process. [1] This motion was defeated.

The decision ushers in a wild west of gene editing that puts at risk the environment, people's health and consumer trust in Australian food.

Now, in Australia, gene editing of SDN1 foods can be commercialised without any Government oversight. Further they will escape any safety studies. These manipulations have not undergone any testing for safety when eaten.

"This comes when scientists are warning about the dangers posed by gene edited organisms. There are serious mutations and off target effects that have been labelled as “clumsy”," said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE - Free NZ.

"As GE plants are able to produce pollen and pass on their engineered traits these clumsy and off target effects may pose serious dangers to the plant, environment and those who eat them."

Gene editing is a very new form of genetic engineering and its techniques are still only at an early development stage. No environmental or feeding tests have been conducted to see if, for example the gene is absorbed by the gut, or to test what are effects on the soil or plants that are cross contaminated with the pollen.

There are good reasons to doubt if GE developers really know what they are doing, given the latest evidence of unintended effects from gene editing. Regularly we are being told of precision techniques that reflect wishful thinking and opinion rather than scientific evidence.

GE organisms are being released too early without the requisite safety studies. Once released, research has shown serious problems are arising, these should have been properly tested for before release. Recently, scientists are admitting that GMOs are a failure and also that the new gene edited *CRISPA, *TALENS, ZFN * [2]; genetically engineered crop technology is not as precise as promoted, being clumsy and full of “unwanted" effects [3]. Anzalone et al (2019) have developed a Mark 3.00 “prime” GMO touted as being “more” precise, but which is as yet untested. [4]

“What is concerning is the recognition that there are many problems associated with GE transgenes and CRISPA technologies, yet now a new GE technique is being hyped but without addressing the problems associated with the older technologies,” said Jon Carapiet,

“We must be able to guarantee that our food chain is safe and all GE foods are tested and labelled. We must ensure that our regulations stay strong and do not let down the public by letting unsafe food onto the market."
*CRISPA= clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats
*TALENS = Transcription Activator-Like Nucleases
*ZFNs= Zinc Finger Nucleases
References:

[1] https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Regulations_and_Ordinances/Alerts

[2] Gene-Editing Could Modify and Cure Disease: CRISPR vs. TALENs https://ark-invest.com/research/crispr-vs-talens

[3] Cohen J. (2019) Prime editing promises to be a cut above CRISPR. Science https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6464/406

[4] Anzalone, A.V., Randolph, P.B., Davis, J.R. et al. Search-and-replace genome editing without double-strand breaks or donor DNA. Nature (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1711-4

ENDS:

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