On June 6th 2023, a Norwegian public report on gene technology was published. The majority of the Committee (7 out of 11 members) propose a significant relaxation of GMO regulations.
The Committee was established by the Norwegian government in 2020. The committee’s mandate was to describe the rapid development of gene technology. Furthermore, they were tasked with assessing risks and ethical dilemmas. An important task was to provide a series of recommendations on regulation.
Anna Wargelius has led the work on the report titled «Genetic Technology in a Sustainable Future.»
«The world is facing a number of significant challenges: climate change, food security issues, and health challenges. To address these challenges, we need technology, and one of those technologies is gene technology,» Wargelius began her presentation at the report’s launch.
The majority of the committee recommend a relaxation of current regulations. Currently, all use of gene technology is regulated as GMOs (genetically modified organisms). This means that precision technologies like CRISPR, in practice, are not permitted because the associated GMO approval requirements and costs for producers in the value chains are too burdensome.
A minority of the committee wishes to largely maintain the current GMO regulations, with some simplifications and updates to guidance documents.
Despite the committee’s divisions on certain points, they agree that ethical justifiability should continue to be a criterion for evaluation.
Project leader at NCE Heidner Biocluster, Sigrid Bratlie, has participated in the work on the report and represents the majority vote.
She believes that it is important to place science at the centre of all policy and establish future-proof regulations that enable the use of precision breeding with CRISPR in Norwegian and European food production.
«Our proposals are based on scientific assessments from the world’s leading experts, who state that the risk scope for precision breeding is no different from that of conventional breeding. Given the significant opportunities these technologies can provide for increased sustainability and competitiveness for Norwegian and European stakeholders, it is riskier to maintain strict regulations than to relax them,» she says.
It is uncertain how the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment will proceed with this work, but there will likely be a hearing after the summer.
Soon, the European Commission will also propose how they intend to update the European regulations.
«The European Commission is expected to propose similar liberalizations as the majority in the Genetic Technology Committee, but it may take a long time before it results in actual legal changes. Therefore, Norway should take the lead and amend Norwegian law as much as possible to enable innovation in the context of our high Norwegian standards for food safety, sustainability and animal health and welfare,» says Bratlie.
In NCE Heidner Biocluster, precision breeding tools like gene editing are particularly relevant for the breeding companies Graminor, Geno, and Norsvin.
The topic will also be relevant for other members that are part of the food value chain as purchasers of raw materials and ingredients for food production.
The breeding companies Geno and Norsvin advocate for a relaxation of regulations for gene editing, while other members of NCE Heidner Biocluster have not yet reached a conclusion.
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