New laws threaten UK food safety
Scientific research shows that gene editing can have many potentially dangerous unintended effects (see references at end of page 1b-23, 27-30).
The above video explains the serious, wide-ranging, long-term dangers from new genetic engineering processes.
An alarming new piece of draft legislation called ‘The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill’ is making its way through UK parliament.
It allows developers to include hazardous genetic changes in gene-edited crops and foods and does not require effective safety testing or labelling. The new genetically modified organisms are wrongly assumed to be safe.
see reference 1a
How the dangerous new Bill
needs to change
Leading scientists warn that gene editing is equally as dangerous, if not more so, than old style genetic modification (ref 33 at end of page).
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.”
- Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist, one of many scientists warning about genetic modification in 2012. Her comments are relevant to the new generation of gene editing techniques.
Unintended genetic changes (6-24, 33) risk producing new allergens and toxins in your food, which are likely to cause health problems and pose major risks to the environment that will be difficult or impossible to reverse (27-29).
Your health may be at risk from irreversible genetic changes to the food supply. This will affect you, your children and future generations.
With your support, we can stop this
Please share this information with your friends and ask them to write to their MPs.
Decision makers and politicians need to know why SAFETY CHECKS and GMO LABELLING on precision bred gene-edited foods are essential and must be required by law.
Act now before it’s too late – see ‘What can you do to help? at the end of this page.
Please donate towards a public awareness campaign to inform decision makers and MPs of the risks of gene editing and toward legal action against new legislation.
Donate now to protect your food and your health
Safety regulations abolished
The UK government has recently removed safety checks and monitoring of gene-edited crop trials in open fields in England (ref 1a). More legislation is in the pipeline called the ‘Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill’. The lack of safety testing for precision bred organisms in the draft bill opens the door to food in the shops with unsafe genetic mutations.
How does this risk your health?
Unintended consequences mean it’s not safe
Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, gene editing is not precise and safe as claimed.
A significant body of published scientific papers shows that claims of precision and safety have no scientific basis (refs 1b-24) and the genetic changes brought about by gene editing are very different from those that could have occurred naturally (6, 32).
Problems with gene-edited animals demonstrate the high level of risk of unintended and damaging genetic changes for gene-edited crops.
CRISPR gene editing unintentionally added goat, bovine, bacterial and virus DNA to mouse genomes (24). Gene-edited cattle, designed to be hornless, were found by regulators to unexpectedly contain antibiotic resistance genes. Yet the developers had said they had no unintended changes (20, 21a, 21b).
Unintended changes risk creating dangerous toxins and allergens in your food.
Several plants naturally make toxins to defend themselves against pests. A few plants even contain low levels of cyanide.
It would only require one or a few genetic changes for ordinary plants such as beans or nuts to make new toxins or increase their level of existing toxins to a dangerous level.
Numerous scientific research papers reveal many unintended changes during the gene-editing process (7 to 24).
Anything from a slight allergic reaction or sniffle to a dangerous poisoning could result – but without risk assessments, traceability, and monitoring, we won’t know until it’s too late. And if something bad happens, we won’t be able to find out the cause.
Research shows that during gene editing, MANY units in the genetic code could be unintentionally changed in a gene-edited plant (6) – like in the analogy below.
Imagine you are working on a Word document on a computer. You are using the Ctrl+H ‘Replace’ function to replace the letters ‘ing’ with ‘ed’ for just one word, but by mistake, without your realising, ‘Replace All’ is activated instead. This changes the spelling and meaning of many words throughout the document and radically alters its impact.
It would be a big mistake for an editor to send out a document without checking for errors like this. But this is analogous to what the Government wants to allow for gene-edited crops.
Irreversible consequences mean it’s forever:
Once the gene editing genie is out of the bottle, it can’t be put back!
Seeds or pollen with unsafe genetic material will spread to neighbouring farms by birds, wind, insects, or vehicles.
Contamination from unregulated crop trials could spread to conventional non-GMO and organic farms, which represent the vast majority of the farming sector.
Scientists agree we need strict regulations in place
Today, many GM experts say that when used without good safety regulations, the new style genetic modification techniques, such as gene editing, are as dangerous as the old ones and need stringent controls.
A joint statement by 61 leading international scientists from the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility makes this point and references many peer-reviewed published scientific papers.
What is the current situation?
New regulations allow developers to self-certify that genetic changes could have occurred naturally. The UK Government is planning even more legislation to free the biotech industry from safety assessments and is ignoring scientific evidence of serious risks (1-24, 27 to 32).
If this is allowed to pass, risky gene-edited foods, with no safety checks and no GMO labelling, could be on your dinner plate soon – despite the warnings of many concerned scientists (7, 9, 20, 33).
Removing advance risk assessments would let major risks go undetected.
This could result in genetic material responsible for new toxins and allergens in plants escaping into the wider environment, as well as material that has unexpected effects on wildlife.
The Government’s GM advisors have conflict of interests
Government advisors do not appear well informed about GM safety. All members of the Government’s influential scientific advisory committee on genetic modification, ACRE, have actual or potential conflict of interests . ACRE members and their organisations should not stand to benefit financially from the technology being allowed with insufficient oversight and safety checks. ACRE should also include experts on the risks that have already been discovered in medical as well as agricultural applications of biotechnology.
What protections used to be in place?
Under EU law, which applied to the UK before the country left the EU, pre-market safety checks had to be carried out on all GM gene-edited organisms. They also had to be labelled as GMOs. This is still the case in EU countries.
What happens if we do not take action now?
Unless we act now, there will almost certainly be no GMO labelling, so we won’t know which foods and seeds are gene edited – even if they are labelled organic. That’s because organic growers won’t know which seeds have been gene edited.
Self-regulation has already been shown to fail (19, 20, 21a, 30).
We want regulations, legal action, safety checks and labelling of gene-edited foods
AWARENESS CAMPAIGN to inform politicians the public and other environmental organizations of the dangers of gene-edited foods.
SAFETY CHECKS. The scientific research overwhelmingly supports the need for stringent safety checks.
GMO LABELLING and traceability. This is essential so that if if something goes wrong, the crops and products can be recalled. It will allow consumers to choose what they eat.
JUDICAL REVIEW if necessary, to challenge the Government to rethink its legislation and base it on sound scientific research rather than on the advice of people with interests in the biotech industry.
What can you do to help?
1. Donate towards a nationwide awareness campaign and a Judicial Review. We need your support. Every little bit helps to keep your food safe.
2. Write to your MP to ask for amendments to The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding Bill), safety checks and full disclosure labelling of gene-edited seeds, crops, and foods. This will allow all of us to choose what we eat and will enable traceability if or when something goes wrong. See sample points for your letter.
3. Sign up to receive news and updates from Alliance for Food Purity and information about action you can take. You can unsubscribe at any time. We will not pass on your details.
4. Read useful information. For more explanation of the research about dangers of gene editing see the Scientific Research:
5. Let your friends know – even those living abroad. Other countries tend to follow the direction the UK takes with technology.
1a)Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3167
New GM plants do not have a history of safe use and should not be exempted from biosafety assessments:
1b) Eckerstorfer MF et al (2021). Biosafety of genome editing applications in plant breeding: Considerations for a focused case-specific risk assessment in the EU. BioTech 2021, 10(3), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/biotech10030010
2) Kawall K (2021). The generic risks and the potential of SDN-1 applications in crop plants. Plants 10(11). 10.3390/plants10112259 https://www.mdpi.com/2223-7747/10/11/2259/htm
3) Eckerstorfer MF et al (2019). An EU perspective on biosafety considerations for plants developed by genome editing and other new genetic modification techniques (nGMs). Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbioe.2019.00031
4) Gelinksky E and Hilbeck A (2018). Environ Sci Europe 30(1):52. https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-018-0182-9
5) Kawall K et al (2020). Broadening the GMO risk assessment in the EU for genome editing technologies in agriculture. Environmental Sciences Europe volume 32, Article number: 106 (2020) https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-020-00361-2
Gene editing makes the whole genome accessible for changes – unlike naturally occurring genetic changes
6) Kawall K (2019). New possibilities on the horizon: Genome editing makes the whole genome accessible for changes. Frontiers in Plant Science, 10:525. doi: frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2019.00525/full
7) Wolt JD et al (2016). Achieving plant CRISPR targeting that limits off-target effects. The Plant Genome 9: doi: 10.3835/plantgenome2016.05.0047. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27902801
8) Zhu C et al (2017). Characteristics of genome editing mutations in cereal crops. Trends in Plant Science 22:38–52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27645899
9) Biswas S et al (2020). Investigation of CRISPR/Cas9-induced SD1 rice mutants highlights the importance of molecular characterization in plant molecular breeding. Journal of Genetics and Genomics. May 21. doi:10.1016/j.jgg.2020.04.004 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1673852720300916
COMMENT: The study confirmed that the types of mutations seen in gene-edited animal and human cells also occur in plants.
10) Höijer I et al (2021). CRISPR-Cas9 induces large structural variants at on-target and off-target sites in vivo that segregate across generations. bioRxiv. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.10.05.463186. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.10.05.463186v1
CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing can cause greater genetic damage than was previously thought
11) Kosicki M et al (2018). Repair of double-strand breaks induced by CRISPR–Cas9 leads to large deletions and complex rearrangements. Nature Biotechnology 36:765–771. https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4192
COMMENT: The CRISPR/Cas9 technique as used in plants is the same. In the case of food plants, the cancer finding is not relevant, but the types of changes seen in this study could result in unexpected toxicity or allergenicity.
12) Mou H et al. (2017). CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing induces exon skipping by alternative splicing or exon deletion. Genome Biology 18:108. DOI: 10.1186/s13059-017-1237-8. https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-017-1237-8
13) Shin HY et al. (2017). CRISPR/Cas9 targeting events cause complex deletions and insertions at 17 sites in the mouse genome. Nature Communications 8, Article number: 15464. doi:10.1038/ncomms15464. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28561021
CRISPR gene editing for gene therapy applications can lead to massive damage to chromosomes. While this finding was in the context of medical gene therapy research, it also has important implications for gene-edited foods.
14) Leibowitz ML et al (2021). Chromothripsis as an on-target consequence of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing. Nat Genet. 2021 Jun;53(6):895-905. doi: 10.1038/s41588-021-00838-7. Epub 2021 Apr 12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33846636/
Creation of new gene sequences leads to new RNA and protein products
15) Mou H et al. (2017). Genome Biology 18:108. https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-017-1237-8
16) Tuladhar R et al (2019). CRISPR-Cas9-based mutagenesis frequently provokes on-target mRNA misregulation. Nature Communications vol 10, Article number: 4056, 6 Sept. https://nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12028-5
CRISPR edits intended to knock-out the function of a gene failed to do so – instead, proteins were still produced from the damaged genes
17) Smits AH et al (2019). Biological plasticity rescues target activity in CRISPR knock outs. Nat Methods 16, 1087–1093. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31659326 Smits AH et al (2019)
Gene editing process induced mutations
18) Tang X et al (2018). A large-scale whole-genome sequencing analysis reveals highly specific genome editing by both Cas9 and Cpf1 (Cas12a) nucleases in rice. Genome Biology 19:84. https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-018-1458-5
Unintended insertion of foreign and contaminating DNA into genome at editing sites e.g. antibiotic resistance genes in gene-edited cattle.
19) Norris AL et al (2020). Template plasmid integration in germline genome-edited cattle. Nat Biotech 38(2): 163-164. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41587-019-0394-6
Insertions of multiple copies of the DNA molecules used as a template for bringing about the desired gene modification
22) Skryabin BV et al. (2020). Pervasive head-to-tail insertions of DNA templates mask desired CRISPR-Cas9–mediated genome editing events. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32095517/
Unintended integration of foreign, contaminating DNA into the edited genome
23) Ono R et al (2019). Exosome-mediated horizontal gene transfer occurs in double-strand break repair during genome editing. Communications Biology 2: 57 https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-019-0300-2.pdf?origin=ppub
26(a) Article about House of Lords report: https://beyond-gm.org/house-of-lords-says-gmo-amendment-lacks-clarity-beyond-gm-responds/
(b) House of Lords report: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/8865/documents/89203/default/
Environmental problems resulting from GM crops
27) Landscape-scale distribution and persistence of genetically modified oilseed rape (Brassica napus) in Manitoba, Canada. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19588180/
28) Long-term persistence of GM oilseed rape in the seedbank https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2610060/
29) Modified genes can distort wild cotton’s interactions with insects. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/modified-genes-distort-wild-cotton-plant-insect-interactions
30) Gene-edited hornless cattle: Flaws in the genome overlooked https://www.gmwatch.org/en/106-news/latest-news/19084
Conflict of interest for UK Government’s scientific advisors
31) See GM Watch’s report on the ACRE members’ declarations of interest:
Evidence that natural breeding leaves parts of the genome protected from changes
32) J. Grey Monroe et al. Mutation bias reflects natural selection in Arabidopsis thaliana. Nature. 12 Jan 2022. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-04269-6
Warning from 61 leading international scientists
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