Biodiversity Farming Food

Unintended effects of new genetic engineering techniques create new hazards and risks

The corporates are arguing that new techniques of gene editing (CRISPR  and others) are safe and therefore there should be widespread deregulation of new produces produced using them. In this study the authors show that these arguments are spurious. The arguments for precautionary regulation of all new GEs/GMOs are as strong as ever.

Here we post extracts from a new report published by Testbiotech, Institute for Independent Impact Assessment in Biotechnology and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

You can download the full report here:


In the European Union and Canada, there are ongoing debates about deregulating organisms derived from methods of new genetic engineering (New GE, also called genome editing or new genomic techniques).

Proposals to exempt genome editing from government regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) largely rest on assumptions about similarities between genome editing and conventional plant breeding that are not supported by scientific findings. These assumptions have led to the impression that there are no new and specific risks caused by New GE as compared to conventional breeding.

Genome editing has the unprecedented power to make large parts of the genome accessible to change, by over- riding the natural mechanisms of genome organization such as repair mechanisms or backup genes. Thereby, New GE techniques can cause pervasive changes in the genome of plants and animals, without inserting additional ‘foreign’ genes. These processes are also known to result in unintended effects, especially if ‘gene scissors’ (site directed nucleases or SDNs) such as CRISPR/Cas are applied. Both intended and unintended genetic changes can go far beyond what was seen in applications of previous methods. Many potential intended and unintended effects are specific to the techniques of New GE and may result in a new quality of risks that de- mand independent and mandatory risk assessment.

If these findings are overlooked in regulation, the introduction of New GE organisms will endanger ecosystems and food safety.


After a discussion of the literature looking at differences in patterns of mutations used in conventional breeding compared to New GE and identified or threatened unintended effects caused by the new processes of genetic engineering, this short report concludes

There is increasing evidence that the intrinsic factors of the New GE techniques deserve much more attention from regulators…

The unintended effects that can result from the use of New GE techniques cannot be overlooked without jeopardizing environmental and food safety. Instead, all New GE organisms need to be subject to mandatory, independent government risk assessment before release into the environment or market.”

Without precautionary regulation of new GE:

  • ›  large numbers of genetically engineered organisms can be expected to be released in an uncontrolled way within a short period of time;
  • ›  the risks of serious damage tobiologicaldiversity,ecosystemsandagriculturalsystemswillincrease;
  • ›  access to data needed for risk assessment by independent experts would not be available;
  • ›  no information would be available to track and trace the New GE organisms and food products derived from them;
  • ›  human health effects may be introduced and could accumulate unnoticed in the food system;
  • ›  few measures would be available to mitigate the uncontrolled spread of these organisms in the environment;
  • ›  organic and other GE-free food and farming could no longer be protected from GE contamination.


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