Monsanto Gets the First CRISPR License to Modify Crops
Consumers won't know if they're eating GMOs, thanks to current laws
Monsanto announced last week that it licensed the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool from the Broad Institute in Boston for use in seed development. The technology will allow the agritech giant to edit crops’ DNA by “snipping” away undesirable traits – or adding in more desirable ones – of the plants’ genetic codes. Frankenfood? 
What this means is that you’ll be eating even more GMOs, except you won’t know it, because companies will be able to label them as non-GMO. Confused? Welcome to the world of biotech. Let me try and clear things up a bit.
Under current law, a food is only consider genetically modified if something is added to its genetic code. You can snip away all the DNA you want from a crop, and it is still considered non-GMO. It makes no sense, but that’s the way it works.
That’s bad news for individuals, but this license – and current law – is great news for Monsanto. The company will likely save years in the lab and within regulatory approval processes, not to mention at least $35 million per marketed trait in regulatory testing and registration expenses. 
Monsanto says it is planning for a “wide array of crop improvements.” That could mean anything from drought-resistant crops to agricultural products that are designed to taste and look more appealing to people.
Issi Rozen, the Broad Institute’s Chief Business Officer, said:
“Genome-editing techniques present precise ways to dramatically improve the scale and discovery efficiency of new research that can improve human health and global agriculture. We are encouraged to see these tools being used to help deliver responsible solutions to help farmers meet the demands of our growing population.” 
There are a few Limitations
Just a few, but thank goodness for them.
Monsanto cannot use CRISPR-Cas9 for the gene drive – a controversial technique that involves forcing a genetic trait into an organism and its line of descent. Gene drives, to put it plainly, have the potential to put other organisms into extinction. 
Additionally, Monsanto will not be allowed to create sterile seeds. Sterile seeds birth crops that cannot bear fertile seeds, which basically forces farmers to keep purchasing buying from seed companies. It would be like never being able to plant the seeds you took from last summer’s tomatoes because they’re genetically engineered not to grow.
These “terminator” seeds had previously been developed by Monsanto in the 90’s, though the corporation insists they will never be sold commercially. 
Frankenfood and Higher Prices
Those in the biotech world hail technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 as a way to feed the world’s hungry, but that’s not exactly true.
As I reported earlier this month, Bayer recently acquired Monsanto for a whopping $66 billion in cold, hard cash.
This means that, a bit further down the road, the conglomerate won’t just be morphing crops, it will also control more than 1/4 of the world market for seeds…and pesticides. With Monsanto’s seed business, Bayer will become a 1-stop shop for farmers.
That means Bayer will have the power to sell seeds at high prices. And since higher seed prices mean higher costs for farmers, the difference will get passed along to you, the consumer, in the former of rising food prices.
Professor Radhakrishnan Gopalan, a professor at the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, explained:
“[Food] will definitely get more expensive. I’m guessing all over, because it’s not just this merger. Any consolidation is not good for consumers.”
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.