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16.11.2017 |

Standard CRISPR gene drives may work too well to be used for conservation

Gene-editing tools heralded as hope for fighting invader rats, malarial mosquitoes and other scourges may be too powerful to use in their current form, two new papers warn.

Standard forms of CRISPR gene drives, as the tools are called, can make tweaked DNA race through a population so easily that a small number of stray animals or plants could spread it to new territory, predicts a computer simulation released November 16 at bioRxiv.org. Such an event would have unknown, potentially damaging, ramifications, says a PLOS Biology paper released the same day.

“We need to get out of the ivory tower and have this discussion in the open, because ecological engineering will affect everyone living in the area,” says Kevin Esvelt of MIT, a coauthor of both papers who studies genetic solutions to ecological problems. What’s a pest in one place may be valued in another, so getting consent to use a gene drive could mean consulting people across a species’s whole range, be it several nations or continents.

16.11.2017 |

Genetically-modified crop ban extension in South Australia to 2025 passes Upper House by single vote

South Australia is set to extend its controversial ban on the growing of genetically-modified crops until 2025 after a bill put forward by the Greens passed the Upper House by a single vote.

The current ban will expire on September 1 in 2019 and was due to be debated later next year, but the Greens surprised the State Parliament with its motion to extend it for another 6 years.

The bill is also expected to pass the Lower House, and Greens leader Mark Parnell said when that happens the State's farmers will be the big winners.

"There are a lot of farmers in South Australia who are nervous about the (GM) technology, and what the marketing evidence shows is that there is a price premium for not growing GM crops," he said.

16.11.2017 |

Gene Drives Are Too Risky for Field Trials, Scientists Say

In 2013, scientists discovered a new way to precisely edit genes — technology called Crispr that raised all sorts of enticing possibilities. Scientists wondered if it might be used to fix hereditary diseases, for example, or to develop new crops.

One of the more intriguing ideas came from Kevin M. Esvelt and his colleagues at Harvard University: Crispr, they suggested, could be used to save endangered wildlife from extinction by implanting a fertility-reducing gene in invasive animals — a so-called gene drive.

When the genetically altered animals were released back into the wild, the fertility-reducing gene would spread through the population, eradicating the pests.

15.11.2017 |

The EU glyphosate timeline

9 November 2017

A new Commission proposal for a 5-year, unrestricted glyphosate licence fails to receive the support of a qualified majority of EU countries.

To come:

27 November 2017

The Commission is to present and possibly amend its proposal for a 5-year, unrestricted glyphosate licence in the appeals committee of higher level member state representatives.

End of November 2017

EFSA is to publish an opinion on the impact of glyphosate residues in feed on animal health, and a review of maximum residue levels in food and feed.

Early December 2017

The Commission is to take a final decision based on the appeal committee vote by EU governments. In July, European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “I wanted to make clear that the Commission has no intention to reapprove this substance without the support of a qualified majority of member states. This is and will remain a shared responsibility”.

15 December 2017 The current EU approval for glyphosate expires.

10.11.2017 |

EU hits deadlock over Roundup herbicide license extension

BRUSSELS • European Union countries deadlocked on Thursday on the future of weedkiller glyphosate that some experts say causes cancer, with the European Commission urging them to reconsider its proposal to allow its use to continue for five years.

Europe has been wrestling for two years over what to do with the chemical, a key ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s top-selling weedkiller Roundup.

The chemical has been used by farmers for more than 40 years, but its use was cast in doubt when the World Health Organization's cancer agency concluded in 2015 it probably causes cancer.

The European Chemical Agency said in March this year, however, there was no evidence linking it to cancer in humans.

On Thursday, the European Union's 28 countries failed to approve or reject the Commission's proposal for a five-year extension to the license allowing glyphosate to be used.

Fourteen countries voted in favor, nine against and five abstained, not enough to secure a "qualified majority" under EU voting rules, the Commission said, adding that it would resubmit its proposal by the end of November, before the current authorization expires on Dec. 15.

10.11.2017 |

Glyphosate deadlock remains, with clear lack of political support for reapproval

EU Member States today failed to agree on the renewal of the herbicide Glyphosate, after a proposal from the European Commission to extend its license for five years. Its current license for use in the EU runs out on December 15.

Adrian Bebb, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Overwhelming public pressure is paying off, with a clear lack of political support to extend the licence for glyphosate. This weedkiller locks in reckless industrial farming, damages nature and probably causes cancer. When the final decision comes around, there's only one responsible option – take it off the market immediately, and support farmers to help them get off the chemical treadmill."

09.11.2017 |

EU governments reject Commission push for glyphosate |

Brussels - European governments have again refused to support a European Commission plan to grant a shortened but unrestricted licence for glyphosate, Europe’s most widely used weedkiller that has been linked to cancer and environmental harm.

The Commission is now expected to take the same proposal to a vote in the so-called appeals committee, where it is also expected to fail. Thereafter, the Commission has the power to adopt its own proposal without the backing of European governments.

09.11.2017 |

Food is culture, food is life, food is ritual: Conference examines ethics of synthetic biology

What if scientists could code DNA as easily as engineers code software? If everything from veggie burgers to opiates could be grown and synthesized completely in a lab? If data could be uploaded and stored on a strand of DNA?

With the advent of new genetic technologies, these questions are no longer hypothetical.

A conference hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches that ran from November 2-4 in Toronto, Ont., aimed to address new technologies and examine the ethics of the field of “synthetic biology.”

A panel discussion, entitled “Redesigning Life: Synthetic Biology, New Genetic Engineering and Ethics,” took place Friday evening, November 3, as part of the conference, “Redesigning the Tree of Life: Synthetic Biology and the Future of Food.”

09.11.2017 |

EU fails again to agree glyphosate renewal

Member states divided

In order to find a deal, member states have to reach a qualified majority. This means that 55 percent of the EU countries, representing 65 percent of the European population, have to agree on the proposal.

Out of the 28 EU member states, 14 voted in favour of the five-year proposal, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Slovenia and United Kingdom.

The same countries, with the addition of Romania and Poland (now abstaining) had backed the previous 10-years proposal, with Spain initially not willing to accept years as a renewal time.

On the other hand, nine EU members states voted against the proposal, namely Belgium, Greece, France, Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, and Austria.

France was willing to further reduce the five-year proposal.

The five member states that abstained comprised Germany (where talks to form a government coalition that would include the Greens party are underway), as well as Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal and Romania.

09.11.2017 |

EU fails to agree licence renewal for controversial glyphosate weedkiller

With a deadline just weeks away, the European Union failed Thursday to break a hardening stalemate on whether to renew the licence for the widely-used weedkiller glyphosate, which critics fear causes cancer.

The European Commission said it fell short of the majority needed to renew the license for five years when it expires December 15, as only half of the 28 member states voted for its proposal.

"Given that a qualified majority could not be reached ... the result of the vote is 'no opinion,'" said the commission, the EU's executive and regulatory arm.

The latest result was hailed by environmental campaigners, including those who rallied outside EU headquarters to mock US agro-food giant Monsanto, the maker of the best-selling glyphosate product Roundup.

"Today we have seen that the seventh attempt of the European Commission to renew Glyphosate has failed again," said Luis Morago, Avaaz campaign director.

"Monsanto wanted 15 more years and they can't even get five."

The European Commission, which had originally recommended approving the herbicide's use for another decade, said it will now submit its proposal to an appeals committee by the end of November.

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