FAO reviewed food safety issues related to gene editing

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently released a report examining food safety issues related to the use of gene editing for food production, including the applicability of existing Codex Alimentarius principles and guidelines for relevant food safety assessments.  

Gene editing encompasses various molecular biology techniques that make targeted changes to an organism's genome. These methods are employed for many reasons, such as creating new plant varieties, animal breeds, and microbial strains for agricultural purposes. For example, gene editing has produced cassava with less cyanide, gluten-free wheat, and pigs resistant to African Swine Fever. Gene editing can potentially enhance food production and quality while promoting sustainability and climate resilience. However, as these are cutting-edge breeding methods, they are under the scrutiny of regulatory agencies worldwide.    

The new FAO report presents essential considerations for formulating and executing policies and regulatory criteria for gene-edited products. Additionally, it identifies areas where national regulatory authorities can take advantage of ongoing FAO and Codex Alimentarius work for scientific guidance, capacity building, knowledge sharing, and information exchange.  

The report revealed that regulators have treated gene-edited organisms and food derived from them similarly to novel foods, GMOs, or traditional products. Some nations mandate a case-by-case evaluation of each item.    

FAO advises against establishing regulations concerning processes and production methods that do not directly affect product safety. It warns that including onerous requirements without scientific justification could lead to burdensome compliance issues rather than the primary goal of consumer protection.    

A review of Codex guidelines demonstrated that existing protocols for food safety risk analysis and assessment can be adapted and applied to gene-edited food safety evaluations. FAO asserts that the potential impacts of gene editing on food safety, quality, and trade are unlikely to differ significantly from those of pre-existing breeding techniques.