The Spanish Confederation of Scientific Societies (Cosce), which brings together 84 Spanish scientific societies and more than 40,000 researchers, has produced a report in which it urgently asks Europe to revise the current standard of Plant Improvement Techniques in the EU, which equates CRISPR technology with GMOs and makes it almost impossible to cultivate them due to enormous bureaucratic obstacles.
"Reviewing the regulations in force in line with the scientific developments of recent decades is essential. In their current state, the regulations impede the essential advances needed to maintain the competitiveness of the EU and Spanish agricultural and livestock sectors," the report states.
Scientists argue that this legislation is obsolete, as was recognized by the European Court of Justice in a judgment in 2018, in which it urged reviewing this regulation. They explained that the technique is based on a protection system naturally possessed by bacteria and archaea by which they incorporate into these microorganisms small fragments of the genome of the viruses that attack them. When one of the stored viruses reappears, they are able to 'cut' the viral DNA and thus prevent reinfection.
CRISPR technology has already allowed researchers, for example, to create mushrooms that take longer to blacken, apples that do not rot when they fall to the ground, and tomatoes that help control hypertension. Since they were made using CRISPR technology, none of them are grown on European soil; however, these products can be imported from other countries, such as Japan, Argentina, or the USA, and they can arrive in European supermarkets without a problem.
"Many of these varieties do not differ from the natural variants, so Europe will not be able to control their import, which puts the production sector at a clear disadvantage compared to the production sectors of countries where these varieties are approved," Cosce stated.
A tool to fight climate change
This technology has been used to obtain plants that have a higher resistance to insects and pathogenic microorganisms in practically all extensive crops, which will lead to a significant reduction in the use of pesticides globally, Cosce stated. "It has also allowed researchers to obtain varieties that are capable of maintaining their production after being exposed to salt water, extreme temperatures, or drought conditions; consequently, varieties more tolerant to climate change."
"Agricultural production in our country needs to adapt to these greater environmental requirements to face climate change, which particularly affects the Mediterranean. To achieve this, we must use all available resources, including the most advanced genetic improvement techniques," they stated.