CRISPR modified mushrooms are going to be put on sale within the United States soon because of what some consider a loophole in legislation. CRISPR, relatively new as a type of genetic modification first showcased in 2007, relies on essential parts of a bacteria’s immune system to splice, activate or deactivate different genes. Obviously the technique itself is much more complicated, but the legalities around it aren’t. Because the company bringing them to market hasn’t focused on including new genetics, but modifying the mushroom’s existing genes, current laws don’t require any real testing of them. The following comes from the Washington Post;
Few scientific issues are more divisive than the regulation and labeling of genetically modified organisms, otherwise known as GMOs. In 2015, a Pew Research survey found that more than half of American adults consider GMOs “generally unsafe.” In contrast, 88 percent of scientists surveyed think GMOs are “generally safe.” That kind of staggering schism between scientific consensus and public opinion — mixed in with a deep mistrust of Monsanto, the company most publicly associated with the push to grow GMO food crops — makes it seem at times impossible to have a level conversation about the real risks and rewards of the technology.
A new fungus shows just how murky our understanding of the technology – and our policy surrounding it – remains. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed that it will not regulate the cultivation and sale of a white-button mushroom created using CRISPR.
Later in the article they clarify:
In this case, no foreign organism’s genetic material was introduced into the food, and that makes all the difference. If Yang had tackled mushroom browning by adding bits of genetic code from another organism, it would have been subject to USDA scrutiny as other non-browning produce has been. Until recently, genetic modification required the insertion of foreign viruses or bacteria, but CRISPR is more advanced than that. Because of that loophole, it’s not under the USDA’s jurisdiction.
Do you think this is a legal loophole? Let us know in the comments! For the rest of Rachel Feltman’s article, check it out here, or for more about GMO’s, check out our article on how hybridization differs from modification!