Gene Editing Regulation Loophole Gives Biotech a Bad Name

April 19, 2016 | ProgressTH Mentioning genetically modified organisms (GMO) causes most people to recoil, and reasonably so. Corporations primarily involved in producing and marketing GMOs have used a variety of unscrupulous business practices to target regulators, consumers, the media, and the general public at large to accept both their products and their ambitions to monopolize entire industries with them.

So big has this problem become, that people unfortunately associate all biotechnology with these businesses. More unfortunate still, is that a novel and promising method of editing genes called CRISPR has become the next vector for these businesses to use and abuse in their "war" on sound biotechnology.

The tech magazine Verge reported in their article Gene-edited mushroom doesn’t need USDA approval for you to eat it that:
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it doesn't need to regulate the cultivation and sale of a genetically modified mushroom because the organism in question doesn't contain any foreign DNA.
Unfortunately, and quite obviously, the USDA's decision has more to do with pleasing industry than protecting human health and the safety of the environment.

Gene editing and even more traditional means of genetic engineering have great benefits and even greater potential for human progress. However, marketing genetically modified or edited organisms cannot and should not be done until we possess the ability to quickly both sequence and reverse changes on a genetic level of everything we seek to genetically alter and release into the environment. It's a lot to ask for now, but it is both prudent and necessary.

In some cases, such as people suffering from terminal disease where altering genes in processes like gene therapy do not pose any threat to the environment and minimal risk to the patient since they are terminal to begin with, risks are understandable. To extend the shelf-life of a mushroom as explained in the Verge article seems like a small benefit versus unknown risks and at the cost of transparency, oversight, and regulation.

The USDA proves it really doesn't care about safety or the environment with its decision, granting an unscrupulous industry a loophole it has desperately sought for years. But as biotech enthusiasts and advocates for its responsible use, we should care, because part of biotech's negative reception by the general public is its unwarranted and reckless abuse by profiteers rushing this technology forward before really thinking about the consequences. We want people to be excited and get into biotech, not recoil from it because of its serial abuse.

And of course, regardless of what the USDA and the industry that has clearly lobbied it to make this poor decision says, these products should all be labeled as GMO or genetically edited. People have a right to know where their food comes from and how. And any industry refusing to do this, refusing to be transparent, is industry that does not belong in business.

Aside from speaking up about this alarming trend by derelict regulators, we can all chose consciously to continue advocating for the responsible use of biotech, as well as provide our communities with safe and transparent alternatives through local markets and locally grown organic produce where consumers can see first hand where their food comes from and how it is grown and processed.

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