Responsible Governance of Gene Editing in Agriculture and the Environment
Biotechnology, which includes gene editing and other technologies, has the potential to address urgent food security, environmental, and human health dilemmas. However, these technologies also raise potential for societal concerns, environmental and health risks, and conflicts with cultural and spiritual values. Previous experience with the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the food system have in some instances resulted in public mistrust, underscoring the need for more transparency, better governance, and oversight of these technologies when they are deployed.
To address these potential concerns, representatives of six conservation and consumer non-governmental organizations developed six principles for responsible governance of gene editing in agriculture and the environment, which were published in an article for Nature Biotechnology (read the news release about the article). The authors of the article include representatives from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund U.S.
The principles outlined by the NGOs focus on gene-editing governance in the public and private sectors in the U.S. context, recognizing governance in the United States can influence outcomes elsewhere. Underscoring the timeliness of discussion of principles for gene editing, the organizations note that several developers are currently poised to introduce gene-edited products into commerce and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently substantially deregulated gene-edited plants and proposed a similarly minimal oversight system for gene-edited animals.
The principles consider issues of private and public risk management, equity and inclusion, and transparency and access. They include:
- Gene editing technologies should be applied safely and ethically; care should be taken to avoid substantial risk and deliver tangible societal benefits.
- Robust, inclusive societal engagement is essential.
- Effective, science-based government regulation is required for realizing the full benefits of gene editing and managing for risks.
- Voluntary stewardship and best practices should supplement regulatory oversight through engagement, transparency, and product assessments that consider a full range of risks and benefits (health and safety, social, economic, and ecological) prior to any release into the environment.
- The public should have access to clear information identifying which gene editing applications are in use in food, agriculture, and the environment.
- Inclusive access to gene editing technology and resources can help drive societal benefit.
Read the following position paper further explaining the principles and the factors considered in their development. This fact sheet also provides a streamlined overview of the principles.
About the NGO Gene Editing Roundtable
The NGO Gene Editing Roundtable is an informal network of U.S.-based food-, agriculture-, and/or conservation-focused NGOs concerned with the responsible governance gene editing and other biotechnologies recognizes the potential societal benefits of gene editing technologies, while acknowledging their potential risks. Facilitated by Keystone Policy Center, the roundtable provides a forum for peer-to-peer engagement on gene editing policy and science to enhance organizational knowledge and capacity as well as identify and advance shared interests. On an opt-in basis, NGOs strategize on and conduct coordinated outreach to other organizations and sectors interested in these topics, for example through comment letters and meetings.
For more information about the NGO Roundtable on Gene Editing in Agriculture and the Environment, or about emerging gene editing technologies, please contact Julie Shapiro, director of the Emerging Technologies Program at the Keystone Policy Center.