These non-browning mushrooms, which were gene-edited, need no special approval by the USDA in the United States, but if they were sent to European Union countries, they'd face the same regulations as GMOs. ( File photo )

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is calling out a recent ruling in the European Union that puts products from new “gene editing” methods such as CRISPR in the same category of all techniques for genetically modified organisms.

In doing so, newer “mutagenesis” methods that introduce no foreign DNA into a new product will face the same regulatory barriers in European Union countries as GMOs.

“Government policies should encourage scientific innovation without creating unnecessary barriers or unjustifiably stigmatizing new technologies,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in the release. “Unfortunately, this week’s (European Court of Justice) ruling is a setback in this regard in that it narrowly considers newer genome editing methods to be within the scope of the European Union’s regressive and outdated regulations governing genetically modified organisms.”

The USDA must approve of GMOs, such as the Arctic apple varieties available for sale in the U.S.

Fruit and vegetable products are rare with the new gene-edited methods. A CRISPR — clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats — white button mushroom from Pennsylvania State University was engineered to resist browning by researchers deleting genes.

That mushroom was the first CRISPR product considered by the USDA for regulation. The USDA said it would not have to meet the agency’s approval in April 2016, but has not been brought to market yet.

According to the USDA, innovations in precision biotechnology “hold great promise.”

“The global regulatory treatment of genome-edited agricultural products has strategic innovation and trade implications for U.S. agriculture,” Perdue said in the release. “For this reason, USDA has clear science- and risk-based policies that enable needed innovation while continuing to ensure these products are safe. In light of the ECJ ruling, USDA will re-double its efforts to work with partners globally towards science- and risk-based regulatory approaches.”

The University of Florida, through a $466,000 multi-year USDA grant, is undertaking a consumer education program on genetically modified foods, in particular the difference between CRISPR/other gene-editing methods and transgenic breeding methods, where foreign genetic material is introduced into an organism.

“This ruling is short-sighted and will affect investment in breeding innovation,” said Brandon McFadden, former University of Florida professor who was working on the project. “The ruling seeks to apply the precautionary principle to breeding techniques, which if applied to all production inputs would result in producers still using walking plows.

“Moreover, this ruling will impact both conventional and organic producers because it is not limited to gene-edited crops. Mutagenesis is also now considered a GMO,” said McFadden, who joins the University of Delaware as a professor Aug. 1.

 
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