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16.11.2017 |

Standard CRISPR gene drives may work too well to be used for conservation

Gene-editing tools heralded as hope for fighting invader rats, malarial mosquitoes and other scourges may be too powerful to use in their current form, two new papers warn.

Standard forms of CRISPR gene drives, as the tools are called, can make tweaked DNA race through a population so easily that a small number of stray animals or plants could spread it to new territory, predicts a computer simulation released November 16 at bioRxiv.org. Such an event would have unknown, potentially damaging, ramifications, says a PLOS Biology paper released the same day.

“We need to get out of the ivory tower and have this discussion in the open, because ecological engineering will affect everyone living in the area,” says Kevin Esvelt of MIT, a coauthor of both papers who studies genetic solutions to ecological problems. What’s a pest in one place may be valued in another, so getting consent to use a gene drive could mean consulting people across a species’s whole range, be it several nations or continents.

16.11.2017 |

Genetically-modified crop ban extension in South Australia to 2025 passes Upper House by single vote

South Australia is set to extend its controversial ban on the growing of genetically-modified crops until 2025 after a bill put forward by the Greens passed the Upper House by a single vote.

The current ban will expire on September 1 in 2019 and was due to be debated later next year, but the Greens surprised the State Parliament with its motion to extend it for another 6 years.

The bill is also expected to pass the Lower House, and Greens leader Mark Parnell said when that happens the State's farmers will be the big winners.

"There are a lot of farmers in South Australia who are nervous about the (GM) technology, and what the marketing evidence shows is that there is a price premium for not growing GM crops," he said.

16.11.2017 |

Gene Drives Are Too Risky for Field Trials, Scientists Say

In 2013, scientists discovered a new way to precisely edit genes — technology called Crispr that raised all sorts of enticing possibilities. Scientists wondered if it might be used to fix hereditary diseases, for example, or to develop new crops.

One of the more intriguing ideas came from Kevin M. Esvelt and his colleagues at Harvard University: Crispr, they suggested, could be used to save endangered wildlife from extinction by implanting a fertility-reducing gene in invasive animals — a so-called gene drive.

When the genetically altered animals were released back into the wild, the fertility-reducing gene would spread through the population, eradicating the pests.

10.11.2017 |

EU hits deadlock over Roundup herbicide license extension

BRUSSELS • European Union countries deadlocked on Thursday on the future of weedkiller glyphosate that some experts say causes cancer, with the European Commission urging them to reconsider its proposal to allow its use to continue for five years.

Europe has been wrestling for two years over what to do with the chemical, a key ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s top-selling weedkiller Roundup.

The chemical has been used by farmers for more than 40 years, but its use was cast in doubt when the World Health Organization's cancer agency concluded in 2015 it probably causes cancer.

The European Chemical Agency said in March this year, however, there was no evidence linking it to cancer in humans.

On Thursday, the European Union's 28 countries failed to approve or reject the Commission's proposal for a five-year extension to the license allowing glyphosate to be used.

Fourteen countries voted in favor, nine against and five abstained, not enough to secure a "qualified majority" under EU voting rules, the Commission said, adding that it would resubmit its proposal by the end of November, before the current authorization expires on Dec. 15.

10.11.2017 |

Glyphosate deadlock remains, with clear lack of political support for reapproval

EU Member States today failed to agree on the renewal of the herbicide Glyphosate, after a proposal from the European Commission to extend its license for five years. Its current license for use in the EU runs out on December 15.

Adrian Bebb, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Overwhelming public pressure is paying off, with a clear lack of political support to extend the licence for glyphosate. This weedkiller locks in reckless industrial farming, damages nature and probably causes cancer. When the final decision comes around, there's only one responsible option – take it off the market immediately, and support farmers to help them get off the chemical treadmill."

09.11.2017 |

EU governments reject Commission push for glyphosate |

Brussels - European governments have again refused to support a European Commission plan to grant a shortened but unrestricted licence for glyphosate, Europe’s most widely used weedkiller that has been linked to cancer and environmental harm.

The Commission is now expected to take the same proposal to a vote in the so-called appeals committee, where it is also expected to fail. Thereafter, the Commission has the power to adopt its own proposal without the backing of European governments.

09.11.2017 |

Food is culture, food is life, food is ritual: Conference examines ethics of synthetic biology

What if scientists could code DNA as easily as engineers code software? If everything from veggie burgers to opiates could be grown and synthesized completely in a lab? If data could be uploaded and stored on a strand of DNA?

With the advent of new genetic technologies, these questions are no longer hypothetical.

A conference hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches that ran from November 2-4 in Toronto, Ont., aimed to address new technologies and examine the ethics of the field of “synthetic biology.”

A panel discussion, entitled “Redesigning Life: Synthetic Biology, New Genetic Engineering and Ethics,” took place Friday evening, November 3, as part of the conference, “Redesigning the Tree of Life: Synthetic Biology and the Future of Food.”

09.11.2017 |

EU fails again to agree glyphosate renewal

Member states divided

In order to find a deal, member states have to reach a qualified majority. This means that 55 percent of the EU countries, representing 65 percent of the European population, have to agree on the proposal.

Out of the 28 EU member states, 14 voted in favour of the five-year proposal, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Slovenia and United Kingdom.

The same countries, with the addition of Romania and Poland (now abstaining) had backed the previous 10-years proposal, with Spain initially not willing to accept years as a renewal time.

On the other hand, nine EU members states voted against the proposal, namely Belgium, Greece, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, and Austria.

France was willing to further reduce the five-year proposal.

The five member states that abstained comprised Germany (where talks to form a government coalition that would include the Greens party are underway), as well as Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal and Romania.

09.11.2017 |

EU fails to agree on glyphosate license renewal

The European Commission has again hit a wall in renewing the approval for the weedkiller glyphosate. The vote comes after 18 months of agonizing over the controversial herbicide.

The European Union on Thursday voted on whether to prolong the use of the common but controversial herbicide glyphosate within its borders, but failed to reach a consensus.

The proposal to renew the EU license for glyphosate for another five years failed to a reach a qualified majority, meaning a decision has again been postponed, according to lawmakers. The current license is due to expire on December 15, but there is an 18 month grace period.

Fourteen countries voted in favor of the renewal, nine against, while five, including Germany, abstained from voting. The proposal could now be referred to an appeal committee, or alternatively the Commission could draw up a new proposal to be voted upon.

"No qualified majority for glyphosate renewal in vote today," said Luxembourg's Environment Minister Carole Dieschbourg on Twitter. Belgian Agriculture Minister Denis Ducarme confirmed the result.

09.11.2017 |

Unauthorised GMOs : Spain wants to bypass the rules

The Spanish authorities have discovered unauthorised seeds of genetically modified cotton. Spain asked the European Commission whether it could process the seeds to turn them into products for feed and food uses. A pragmatic view which would benefit companies...

The presence of unauthorised GMOs in the European Union is not unusual. In the summer of 2017, unauthorised seeds of two genetically modified cottons (MON1445 and MON531) have been detected in Spain on a shipment from Argentina.

Cottons seeds unauthorised for import

Feed and food « produced from » [1] these two transgenic cottons are authorised on the European market : more specifically, the authorisations concern food and feed additives, feed materials and cottonseed oil. But unlike other genetically modified cottons authorised in the European Union [2], the authorisations do not cover products containing or consisting of these genetically modified cottons [3]. The scope of both applications did indeed only cover the products produced from the genetically modified cottons. Thus, it is clear that the two transgenic cottons detected in Spain are not authorised in the form of seeds in the European Union.

Moreover, in its opinion on the applications of both the particular cottons, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) [4] [5] indicates that there were no requirements for scientific information on environmental safety assessment of accidental release or cultivation of the cottons since the scope of the applications « only includes products produced from cotton » MON 531 and MON1445 which contain no viable plant parts [6].

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