Genome editing: EC’s Ethics Group calls for wide-ranging societal debate and global governance

EGE (2021) Ethics of Genome Editing. European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies. European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. March 112 pp.


19 March 2021. The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), an independent advisory body to the Commission, has published its Opinion on the ethics of genome editing. The Opinion analyses ethical questions raised by the application of genome editing in humans, animals and plants, and hence spans health, research, agriculture and environmental aspects.

Genome editing refers to new forms of targeted intervention to alter the genomes of any organisms. The Opinion’s area-specific analyses are complemented by overarching considerations on long-debated questions revived by genome editing, notably about the different meanings that ought to be attributed to humanness, naturalness and diversity.

The EGE is calling for a wide-ranging and inclusive societal debate on genome editing, for efforts towards joint monitoring and learning with regard to both regulatory and scientific developments, and for international engagement towards global governance. The debate should be based on democratic principles, take into account present and future generations and include local and European perspectives.

This is the 32nd Opinion of the EGE and follows a formal request by the European Commission to examine the ethical issues surrounding novel genome editing techniques across all areas of application. The Opinion builds on the EGE’s Statement on gene editing.

The Commission will present, at the end of April, at the request of the Council, a study on New Genomic Techniques.

The European Green Deal Communication mentions under the Farm to Fork strategy that “the EU needs to develop innovative ways to protect harvests from pests and diseases and to consider the potential role of new innovative techniques to improve the sustainability of the food system, while ensuring that they are safe.” As such, among its other objectives, the current study will also explore the potential of NGTs to contribute in addressing challenges identified in the Green Deal as well as investigate safety-related aspects.

Related: 

The African continent is facing a strong push to adopt novel GM technologies, such as cisgenesis and intragenesis, RNAi-mediated DNA methylation, agroinfiltration, reverse breeding and genome editing techniques (CRISPR and gene drives, TALENS and oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis).

The failure of old GM technologies is a forewarning that such new GM techniques will also be met with fierce opposition. We will not tolerate in Africa, continuing hegemonic control and privatisation of African food systems. African civil society has called and continues to call for a ban on both failed GMOs and the latest genome editing and gene drive technofixes. What is needed is to decolonise African agricultural and health systems from unequal colonial relationships with the North and the rest of world, which continue to exacerbate our ecological and health crises.

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