Recently, claims have arisen that “GM 2.0” has arrived, bringing a suite of new Gene Editing (GE) techniques that supercharge existing and well-known genetic modification (GM) technologies. Applied to crop breeding, these techniques represent a diverse array of new possible traits and applications, more complex and specific than those involved in the first generation of genetic engineering. As policymakers struggle to keep pace with developments in the field, questions of how resulting Gene Edited Crops (GECs) will be regulated emerge.
This project aimed to understand how the regulatory features of this new class of technologies differ from GM. The team examined the extent to which specific applications of gene editing (a continuum from simple deletions at one end to transgenic insertions at the other) cohere with regulatory frameworks in jurisdictions across the world, and how Canadian experts perceive this novel gene editing technology in term preparedness of existing regulatory systems to address risks.
The results include three key findings. First, most jurisdictions have tended to integrate the regulation of gene editing into existing frameworks. Second, while many regulatory systems focus on the presence of transgenic materials as a triggering event for regulation, this principle is rapidly losing coherence in the face of new technologies. Third, experts are largely optimistic about the future of GE in Canada but identify some key challenges – including the ability of regulatory systems to manage novelty, issues such as traceability, and public perceptions of GE.
A key implication of this work is that rather than focusing on the technical details of gene editing, regulation should focus on risks and benefits of specific applications. This is because approaches to ‘regulatory triggers’ are increasingly incompatible with novel gene editing techniques and their offshoots. Ideal approaches would focus not on limited definitions of what is technically ‘natural’ or ‘modified’ or not, but rather, on more holistic understandings of impact. In this fast-moving context, experts are particularly worried about public perception of GE and see the need for deeper engagement of the public in communicating the balance of risks and benefits.