China is open to genre-edited food. This is how it can affect Norway

Chinese authorities are following in the footsteps of countries such as Japan, Brazil and Argentina. Regulations for genetically modified food crops will now be relaxed.

This means that plants that Chinese researchers have been working on for several years can be taken out of the laboratory and into the field.

Such changes could affect Norwegian consumers in the long run. Håvard ritsland Eggestøl of the Council on Biotechnology thinks so.

Norway is completely dependent on food imports from other countries.

– It is not so many years that it can be difficult. We can imagine a situation where genre editing is becoming more and more common all around us, while we are very strict. This could lead to trade conflicts, Eggestøl told

Not the same as genetically modified food

Changes in China do not mean that traditional genetically modified foods have been given up.

What is usually called a GMO is about inserting a foreign gene into a plant or animal. For example, taking genes from bacteria, which make insecticides, and inserting them into corn plants.

Such modified food crops will continue to be fairly tightly regulated in China.

What’s easier now is to grow CRISPR edited crops.

That is, a plant whose researchers have removed a piece of DNA that already has that plant. Or that they have made minor changes.

And Chinese researchers and prepared food manufacturers.

China is trying to take a leading role

China has a large number of patents using CRISPR technology. The United States is the only country that has more, show an overview of 2019 in Nature Biotechnology.

The two great powers were way ahead of all the other countries in the world.

In the US, the regulations are also a little less clear, says Eggestøl. So it is more predictable which ones are approved and which ones are not.

Now China can benefit greatly.

– The combination of investments that China has made, and these changes to the law could mean that they are trying to take a leading role in CRISPR in agriculture, Eggestøl said.

Wheat that can resist fungal diseases

One crop that may find its way into the Chinese fields is the genetically modified wheat crop. It is resistant to certain fungal diseases.

Instead of giving wheat a new gene, Chinese researchers have removed certain parts of the DNA. These are areas that make plants susceptible to harmful fungi.

The researchers still have to apply for permission from the Chinese authorities, but approval can now be done sooner.

“This is really good news for us. It is open to commercialization,” said Caixia Gao at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. to the journal Nature.

He is one of the researchers behind the new CRISPR wheat study, published in Nature.

Norway may have the strictest regulations in the world

In Norway, on the other hand, genetically modified food crops must remain in the laboratory for a while.

Like, for example, the strawberry plant researchers at NIBIO have thrived. In the same way as Chinese wheat, Norwegian strawberries can withstand mildew.

However, if crops are to be grown in a Norwegian strawberry field, many requirements must be met. This also applies to all genetically modified and genetically modified foods to be imported from other countries.

– In Norway, we have the strictest regulations in the world. At least close, said Eggestøl.

Apart from proving that the plant is safe for health and the environment, which is in line with EU rules, it also has to provide something more.

Food manufacturers must contribute to sustainable development, be socially beneficial and ethically healthy.

– The challenges of genre editing in food production are largely related to how we use technology, says Håvard ritsland Eggestøl at the Council on Biotechnology.

New discussion in EU

So far, only one GMO plant has been approved in Norway. It’s not food, but cut flowers. Blue-purple carnation.

But that can change.

Recently, there has been some discussion about genre editing in the EU.

– Among several member states, France and Sweden have spoken out in favor of softening rules in the EU. If that happens, it will have an impact on Norway, Eggestøl said.

“This doesn’t make sense”

When the European Court of Justice ruled that CRISPR-edited foods should be as strictly regulated as GMO foods, some European researchers were also critical.

Michael Palmgren, professor at the University of Copenhagen, points out that all food crops have modified genes. It’s just that it happens through breeding instead of with CRISPR.

“If you don’t want to eat modified foods, you shouldn’t eat cauliflower and broccoli and everything that doesn’t live in nature. It doesn’t make sense, »said Michael Palmgren, professor at the University of Copenhagen in this regard at


Shengnan Li mfl: Genome-edited powdery mildew resistance in wheat without growth penalty, Nature February 2022. summary.

Jacqueline Martin-Laffon mfl: The worldwide CRISPR patent landscape shows strong geographic bias, Nature biotechnology 2019. summary.

Lance Heptinstall

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