Non-safety Assessments of Genome-Edited Organisms: Should They be Included in Regulation?

Science and Engineering Ethics 26 (5):2601-2627 (2020)
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Abstract

This article presents and evaluates arguments supporting that an approval procedure for genome-edited organisms for food or feed should include a broad assessment of societal, ethical and environmental concerns; so-called non-safety assessment. The core of analysis is the requirement of the Norwegian Gene Technology Act that the sustainability, ethical and societal impacts of a genetically modified organism should be assessed prior to regulatory approval of the novel products. The article gives an overview how this requirement has been implemented in the regulatory practice, demonstrating that such assessment is feasible and justified. Even in situations where genome-edited organisms are considered comparable to non-modified organisms in terms of risk, the technology may have—in addition to social benefits—negative impacts that warrant assessments of the kind required in the Act. The main reason is the disruptive character of the genome editing technologies due to their potential for novel, ground-breaking solutions in agriculture and aquaculture combined with the economic framework shaped by the patent system. Food is fundamental for a good life, biologically and culturally, which warrants stricter assessment procedures than what is required for other industries, at least in countries like Norway with a strong tradition for national control over agricultural markets and breeding programs.

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