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Monsanto just received first 'CRISPR' license to modify crops

Gene editing

(NaturalNews) Monsanto has officially entered the "GMO 2.0" business, with the signing of the licensing agreement to use the technology known as CRISPR-Cas9. Due to a recent ruling by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the technology will allow Monsanto to create a new generation of GMO foods that are legally permitted to be labeled as "non-GMO."

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is one of a broad family of new technologies known deceptively as "gene editing," in which scientists attempt to create targeted changes to genomes. The biotech industry presents gene editing as fundamentally different from first-generation genetic modification, which involved crudely splicing genes from one species into another. But critics note that for all its grand claims, gene editing is marred by all the same problems and dangers as the original GMO techniques.

Monsanto pushes to commercialize all life

Many of the patents for the processes used in CRISPR-Cas9 technology are held by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Under the new agreement, Monsanto gains a worldwide, nonexclusive right to use these technologies for agricultural applications.

A company press release highlights two exclusions to the license, placed to allay concerns from biotech critics. The license prohibits Monsanto from creating a gene drive, a controversial technique designed to deliberately spread genetically modified genes to non-modified organisms through sexual reproduction. It also bans Monsanto from producing sterile seeds, such as the "terminator" line Monsanto produced in the 1990s to force farmers to buy new seed stock every season.

Monsanto has publicly disavowed the terminator technology and says it will not commercialize it.

No other terms of the new agreement were made public, and the company mentioned no other limits on its ability to tamper with life's genetic code for its own profit.

GMOs no longer regulated in the USA

This summer, the USDA announced that it will not regulate crops produced by "gene editing" techniques as GMOs, meaning that companies will not have to go through a safety testing or regulatory approval process for these crops. This will save companies like Monsanto an estimated $35 million per modified trait just in regulatory testing and registration fees.

Critically, it also means that "gene edited" crops can be legally labeled "non-GMO," even in states that require GMO labeling.

Gene editing techniques include fusing separate cells, inducing mutations with the use of synthetic DNA, and cutting out specific genes to induce the DNA to take up another, injected gene.

But as numerous experts have pointed out, there is no real difference between gene editing and older GMO technologies. They both produce fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable changes in the genomes of living organisms. They create an unknowable risk of genetic pollution, as well as adverse health reactions in people who consume them.

Another fundamental issue with GMOs, 1.0 or 2.0, is that genetic modification of food crops is driven by corporate profit, not the needs of human beings. No matter what grandiose claims companies make about feeding the hungry, research confirms that GMOs benefit corporate bottom lines, not hungry families.

This problem is likely to worsen with the recent acquisition of Monsanto by seed, pesticide and biotechnology company Bayer. With the merger, Bayer will soon control more than a quarter of the world's seed and pesticide markets, allowing it to engage in a virtual monopoly over the world's food supply.

"[Food] will definitely get more expensive," said Radhakrishnan Gopalan of Washington University's Olin School of Business. "I'm guessing all over, because it's not just this merger. Any consolidation is not good for consumers."

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