New plant breeding techniques, including approaches to ‘editing’ of genes in seeds have the potential to revolutionize agriculture in numerous ways. These techniques enable precise gene modifications thereby enabling the development of more robust and higher yielding varieties of grain, fruits and vegetables.
To fully realize the social benefits of these innovations in agriculture, it is imperative that these technologies be effectively regulated, especially given past histories of social conflict over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) or transgenic crops. A key uncertainty relates to how processes and products of gene editing might be interpreted within existing frameworks of regulations, especially those related to GMOs. In particular, there is the concern that a broad interpretation of existing regulations might greatly restrict the innovation possible with new plant breeding techniques, resulting in a lack of new crop varieties, contributing to potentially greater food insecurity. Conversely, the speed of innovation in the sector, based on these new techniques, could overwhelm the capacity of regulators to monitor and test for releases given the tools at their disposal, and their obligations within the current framework.
This project aims to understand the suitability and preparedness of existing regulatory frameworks for gene editing in agriculture in three jurisdictions – Canada, EU and the United States. The outcomes of this research could clarify policy debates by providing evidence-based insights into the range of expert opinion on the regulation of gene-editing in agriculture.