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Gene-Edited Products Now Classified as GMOs in European Union
The European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday that organisms obtained by mutagenesis, or gene editing, are considered genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which mean they fall under the same strict EU rules that govern GMOs.
The decision is a victory for organic farming associations and environmentalists wary of "GMO 2.0" techniques such as CRISPR gene editing that alter an organism's DNA.
"These new 'GMO 2.0' genetic engineering techniques must be fully tested before they are let out in the countryside and into our food," Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said in a press release. "We welcome this landmark ruling which defeats the biotech industry's latest attempt to push unwanted genetically-modified products onto our fields and plates."
The biotech industry and other gene editing proponents believe the novel technique can revolutionize food production, medicine and other areas. Compared to older GMO technology, which typically involves inserting genetic material from one species to another, gene editing uses "molecular scissors" to edit DNA of live organisms. For instance, scientists have created a mushroom that resists browning by using the genome-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9.
The German chemical industry association VCL, which represents companies such as Bayer, BASF and Merck KGaA, was disappointed by the court's ruling, calling it "backward looking and hostile to progress," Reuters reported.
"It is damaging to the ability of the EU's biotech hub to innovate and disconnects it from developments in the rest of the world," VCL continued.
The case was brought to the European Court of Justice by French farmer unions that argued organisms obtained by mutagenesis should not be exempt from GMO rules under French law.
Today's decision means that GMO 2.0 foods and crops are subject to existing EU laws for GMOs, including safety assessments, clear labelling and traceability.
However, the court ruled that exemptions could be made for mutagenesis techniques that have been conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record.
In light of the decision, Schimpf of Friends of the Earth urged the EU and national lawmakers to "ensure that all new genetically modified products are fully tested, and they must also support the small-scale, nature-friendly agriculture we urgently need."
Bart Staes, the MEP of the Greens/EFA group, also applauded the decision.
"Just because the industry has come up with new ways to modify organisms does not mean that these techniques should be exempt from existing EU standards on GMOs," he said in a press release. "Recent scientific studies show that these new techniques might not be as accurate as the industry claims them to be, that's why it's essential that they come under the same labelling requirements and impact assessments as existing GMOs. These new patented organisms may have unintended effects, as well [as] the potential to increase our dependence on the agri-chemical industry, and therefore must be stringently monitored by the European Food Safety Authority for any risks to human, animal and environmental health."
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.