Myths and Truths of Gene-Edited Foods
Explanation of terms used below
CRISPR = the most popular gene-editing tool
GENOME = the complete set of genetic material (DNA or RNA) of an organism
GENE = a basic unit of inheritance within the genome of an organism
OFF-TARGET EFFECT = unintended genetic mutations that occur in gene editing and take place at a location other than the intended gene-editing site (hence “off-target”), including deletions, insertions, inversions, and rearrangements.
INDEL = insertion or deletion of DNA base units into the genome of an organism
BASE UNIT = the basic molecular unit from which DNA is constituted. There are 4 base units: adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), and cytosine (C). In regions of the genome that encode for proteins, a sequence of base unit triplets (for example, CAG) makes up the genetic code.
MUTATION = Damage to a gene, resulting in a change to the genetic message carried by that gene, usually with harmful consequences to the organism.
The sequence is:
MUTATIONS > CHANGES IN GENE FUNCTION > ALTERED BIOCHEMISTRY > LIKELY NOVEL TOXINS/ALLERGENS OR HEIGHTENED LEVELS OF EXISTING TOXINS/ALLERGENS
SDN-1 = knocks-out a gene
SDN-2 = gene modification
SDN-3 = gene insertion
Full links to studies at: www.allianceforfoodpurity.org.uk
Gene-edited plants pose no more risk than conventionally bred plants.
The radical nature of genetic manipulation techniques (including gene editing) can bring about mutations and other changes in the genetic material that would not occur in nature or in conventional plant breeding. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2019.00525/full
Even if no foreign DNA remains in the end product, gene editing produces many mutations (damage to DNA) and unintended effects. These occur not only at “off-target” sites of the genome (sites that were not intended to be “edited”), but also at the intended gene-edited site. In nature, organisms go to great lengths to keep mutations as low as possible, because many are harmful to the organism. Genetic modification techniques can bypass these protective mechanisms, opening up regions of the genome that would not otherwise be accessible to changes. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpls.2019.00525/full
Gene-edited foods produced using techniques such as CRISPR do not require safety checks or testing, because the changes made are similar to what could happen in nature.
There is no evidence that gene-edited foods are safe because no feeding studies have been carried out in humans or animals. The types of unexpected changes that result from gene editing of plants, animals, and human cells are documented in many scientific studies. These studies demonstrate the need for gene-edited plants, crops and farm animals to be regulated and undergo safety checks and labelling. Without labelling, there will be no way of knowing if any food or seed is gene-edited. So organic and non-GM food could become contaminated with gene-edited genetically modified organisms (GMOs) through mixing in storage or transport, or by farmers unknowingly planting gene-edited seeds.
Gene editing of food crops is safe.
Mutations can alter the gene function of plants, leading to altered biochemistry. This can include the production of new toxins or allergens, or higher levels of existing toxins or allergens, and unexpected effects on wildlife.
New gene-editing techniques offer great advantages.
In 25 years the older-style GM crops have not delivered the promised benefits and have increased pesticide use. New gene-edited crops are based on the same limited technology. They cannot deliver desirable traits like high yield and pest resistance, as these are genetically complex traits that involve many genes acting together in a network. They cannot be conferred by manipulating one or a few genes. Moreover, gene-edited crops and foods pose many of the same risks as older-style GM crops and foods. Unless action is taken now to require that gene editing remains regulated, we will all soon be at risk.
Gene-edited foods are not genetically modified organisms.