Food safety and quality

Gene editing

Gene (or genome) editing is an umbrella term for various techniques based in molecular biology used for introducing targeted changes in the genome of living organisms. These techniques are used for numerous reasons including to breed new plant varieties, animal breeds, and microbial strains for agricultural purposes. They can potentially develop diverse traits to increase food production and quality, as well as contributing towards sustainability and climate change resilience. However, since these are innovative breeding techniques, they are also often subject to scrutiny by regulatory bodies worldwide.

There are currently four kinds of SDNs used in molecular biology: 1) meganucleases, 2) zinc-finger nucleases, 3) transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN), and 4) clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) – CRISPER-associated (Cas) nucleases. The first two, meganucleases and zinc-finger nucleases, have been used for gene editing since the 1990s. However, the advent of CRISPR-Cas nucleases in 2013 created an increase in gene editing research and applications, because of their significant practical advantages enabling widespread use.

Food safety and gene editing

There are ongoing national and international discussions about the most appropriate forms of regulations to cover such techniques. Current policymaking efforts in this regard focus on the various technical issues including food safety as one of the priority areas.

In 2023, FAO published a technical report entitled "Gene editing and food safety: Technical considerations and potential relevance to the work of Codex Alimentarius". This report is a follow-up report of the FAO issue paper entitled "Gene editing and agrifood systems" published in 2022.

The food safety report provides a review on the applications of gene editing for food production, including the applicability of existing Codex Alimentarius principles and guidelines for relevant food safety assessments and it offers some key considerations for developing and implementing policies and regulatory criteria for products derived from gene editing.

It also highlights areas where there are opportunities for national competent authorities to benefit from the existing and ongoing work of FAO and Codex Alimentarius and for scientific advice, capacity development, knowledge transfers and information exchanges.



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