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Crop Genomics Edition Symposium held: beyond science

The symposium “Genomic Editing of Crops: beyond science” On May 12, it brought together more than 400 participants virtually, including prominent scientists, legal experts and representatives of the Spanish agri-food sector, to review the state of genomic editing and its application to agriculture. Organized by the Spanish section of EU SAGE (alliance of more than 130 European scientific societies and research centers) and BIOVEGEN-Technological Platform for Plant Biotechnology (association of 135 companies and research centers in plant innovation), the symposium was sponsored by the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE), and included the inauguration of the Minister of Science and Innovation, Pedro Duque, and the closing of José Antonio Sobrino, deputy director general of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

“Spain has leading research groups in genetic editing of crops, which are making relevant contributions, but unfortunately many of these developments cannot be brought to the market in Europe due to the barriers posed by the current restrictive legislation. "It is necessary for Europe to eliminate these barriers as soon as possible.". This was explained by Antonio Granell, researcher at the Institute of Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology (UPV-CSIC) and organizer of the symposium during its presentation.

Throughout the day, the state of the art of genome editing and its application to agriculture was reviewed. The social, economic and sustainability consequences derived from the implementation of more restrictive or permissive regulation were also debated. Likewise, the ethical, legal and competitiveness derivatives were analyzed by experts in different disciplines, including representatives from the field of research, business, economics and bioethics.

Gonzaga Ruiz de Gauna, director of BIOVEGEN, pointed out that the productive sector needs to innovate to be able to have varieties with which to compete on equal terms. “In addition, genome editing is a transcendental technology to achieve the productivity and sustainability objectives of the agri-food sector set out in the European 'Farm to Fork' strategy. It would be very difficult to understand that a technology so beneficial for the entire value chain, from the producer to the consumer, is accessible in other advanced countries such as the US, Canada or Japan, where it is not subject to strict regulation, and that it is not in Europe, forcing value chain agents to travel to third countries to apply it”.

European Commission consultation

This symposium took place two weeks after the European Commission published the results of a study on the impact of genome editing in plants. Following this study, the Commission will begin consultations with member countries, seeking their opinion on whether the current legislation, which dates back more than 20 years, is adequate in view of the challenges posed by gene editing and important role that new breeding technologies can play in innovation in the agri-food sector.

“Regulations must protect innovations as well as the interests of citizens and the environment, but they must adapt to new technologies. There are mechanisms to adapt current legislation, exempting gene editing from the over-regulation of transgenics, as is done with plants improved through physical or chemical mutagenesis. Or else develop ad hoc legislation for edited plants, it is a matter of political will.”said Felipe Palau, Professor of Commercial Law at the UPV and moderator of the session on social, economic and legislative aspects of the symposium.

According to a recent report published by CAJAMAR, the agri-food sector in Spain, including distribution, contributed 102,983 million euros to the Spanish economy in 2019, which is equivalent to 9.1 % of gross value added, and has generated 2,397,279 jobs. , 11.8 % of the national total. Although these values are higher than the European average, our country invests less in R&D&I in agri-food than the EU-28 average.

“A specific investment aimed at facilitating the development and incorporation of new technologies to improve the Spanish productive fabric through public-private consortia would allow us to achieve a leadership role in this strategic sector for our country”, assured Toni Granell.

The Symposium highlighted the potential and high degree of development of these techniques to address the productive and environmental challenges facing the EU, as well as the excellent scientific and business resources that Spain has to participate in this development.

The urgent need for the European productive sector to be able to access these technologies and their derived products on equal terms with the rest of farmers worldwide was also highlighted. In this sense, decision-making mechanisms analogous to those already implemented in other developed countries were proposed, to quickly implement legislation in accordance with scientific and technological evidence.

Recording and presentations of the Symposium

11:00 a.m. Welcome and opening.  

  • Toni Granell. IBMCP (CSIC-UPV)
  • Pedro Mier. President of the R&D&I Commission. CEOE
  • Pedro Duque. Minister of Science and Innovation. Ministry of Science and Innovation

11:30 a.m. Genome editing, a revolutionary technology in agriculture and plant biotechnology.

Moderator: Antonio Granell. IBMCP (CSIC-UPV)

  • Francis Mojica. Alicante University
  • Lluis Montoliu. CNB-CSIC
  • Francisco Barro. IAS-CSIC
  • Diego Orzaez. IBMCP (CSIC-UPV)
  • Pere Puigdomènech. CRAG (CSIC-IRTA-UAB-UB)

12:10 p.m. Round table

12:40 p.m. Genome editing of crops: legal, ethical, economic aspects.

Moderators: Gonzaga Ruiz de Gauna. BIOVEGEN / Felipe Palau. UPV

  • Ana Judith Martín de la Fuente. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA)
  • Leire Escajedo San-Epifanio. University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU)
  • Antonio Villarroel. ANOVE
  • César González. EUROSEEDS
  • Pilar Iñiguez. University of Alicante (UA)

1:30 p.m. Round table and questions

2:00 p.m. Conclusions and closing

  • José Antonio Sobrino. General Subdirectorate of Agricultural Production Means and Spanish Office of Plant Varieties. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
  • Gonzaga Ruiz de Gauna. BIOVEGEN