Sunday, March 19, 2017

Organic Activists Realize Hypocrisy On Gene Editing and Biotech

There is a segment of the organic movement that wants to get their ducks in a row so that they can oppose gene editing technologies without hypocrisy. Quote:

“Without regulatory review” is bad enough. But to allow the use of mutagenesis, a process that involves “dousing seeds with chemicals,” in organic is a serious breach of consumer trust in the USDA organic certification program.”

Well no kidding. Not that I agree that this is a concern for safety, but its always been odd to me that recombinant DNA technologies would be ineligible for certified organic labeling (especially when Bt traits would make it much easier to exclude pesticides) while the gross number of other foods produced via mutagenesis were perfectly fine. Perhaps this cognitive dissonance was just fine until recent advances in gene editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9. With the FDA taking comments regarding regulation of gene editing in new plant varieties, this is likely not a coincidence. 

As I stated in my comments:

"Similar to organically certified crop varieties that use chemical and radiological methods to create in-genome changes, gene edited technologies operate within genome, vs. across species.  (one popular example of gene editing includes the CRISPR-Cas9 system).  Unlike mutagenic approaches used in organically approved plant breeding systems,  these in-genome tweaks are planned, controlled, and designed to bring about very specific outcomes."

This presents a problem. Of course the page I have linked to does not explicitly state this as their rationale, you can't oppose new technologies that are actually more precise and safer than the old technologies you stand by unappologetically. (I realize in terms of safety we are splitting hairs but those hairs represent lots of money and marketing opportunities). So I don't blame this group for trying to get everyone on the same page.  Another quote:

"How do you know if your organic food comes from mutant seeds? You don’t. If you buy local, you can ask your local farmer. Alternatively, you can avoid rice, wheat, barley, pears, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers and grapefruit. These are the only mutant crops that you could potentially find in the organic section."

Slim pickings if you want to oppose gene editing with integrity.

See also: Fat Tails, the Precautionary Principle, and GMOs.

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