Europe is not a particularly friendly place to be a biologist. Sure, Europeans believe in evolution, but that's about it. Vaccines and GMOs? Not so much.
Currently, Europe is experiencing an outbreak of measles that has infected more than 41,000 people and killed 37. In 2017, Italy alone had 200 times more measles cases than the United States on a per capita basis. Despite all this, vaccine skepticism appears to be on the rise: 40% of French people believe vaccines are unsafe.
Europe's sour disposition toward vaccines pales in comparison to its outright hostility toward GMOs. Europe's opposition to GMOs has never made any sense, neither scientifically nor economically. For instance, Europeans' moral stance against GMOs -- such as preventing farmers from growing them -- is rather undermined by the fact that the continent must import tons of GMOs every single year.
Now, to rub extra salt in the wound, a decision by the European Court of Justice ordering bureaucrats to regulate gene editing in the same way that they regulate GMOs serves a devastating blow to biotechnology advocates in Europe. Once again, Europe's decision makes no scientific sense. In a nutshell, gene editing allows scientists to manipulate DNA sequences without inserting genes from other organisms. It's the biotech equivalent of using Microsoft Word to fix a typo in a long text document. Not only is it safe, it's a brilliant demonstration of how basic research can yield world-revolutionizing technology.
Yet, inexplicably, the Court deems this breakthrough to be just as hazardous* as more traditional genetic modification. And scientists are mad.
Science Strikes Back
The good news is that some scientists aren't going to sit idly by while Europe attempts to destroy an entire field of scientific research. The scientists are striking back.
In an editorial for Nature Biotechnology, three scientists wrote that they are "gravely concerned by the decision" because it "ignores the science of agricultural improvement" and "almost certainly will impede developments that would enhance the sustainability of agriculture and world food security." Indeed, declaring a war on biotechnology is tantamount to declaring a war on impoverished people. Many African farmers, who export much of their food to Europe, shy away from GMOs because of the EU's unscientific policies. It's not a stretch to conclude that Europe's anti-GMO beliefs are killing Africans.
The authors of the editorial go on:
"Because no tenable scientific basis can be provided to justify the CJEU decision, we are left with the sole alternative explanation, namely, that the decision was made without reference to scientific evidence... This process of decision-making by the European court is grounds for grave concern."
"Equally concerning is that the decision, although supposedly made in the name of protecting small farmers, would limit the access of those very farmers to a technology that sharply decreases their costs and the environmental impacts of their farms. The ruling will also make it more difficult for small companies, governmental entities, and charitable organizations to develop new varieties."
In other words, Europe's decision hurts everybody and is thoroughly unscientific. The authors call for the Court's decision to be reviewed, but it seems that the EU is hellbent on destroying biotechnology.
GMOs today. Vaccines tomorrow?
*Note: Traditional genetic modification also isn't hazardous.