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EU: New genetic engineering methods considered genetically modified

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The European Court of Justice has ruled that new genetic techniques like CRISPR/Cas should also fall under Europe’s genetic engineering law including risk assessment as well as labelling.

The biotech industry has developed the so-called scissors or mutagenesis technology to alter genetic material in animals or plants faster and more specifically than before. Whether this technology has to fall under EU rules that limit genetic modification has been discussed thoroughly by politics, farmers, industry, NGOs as well as the organic sector. Now, the way for the broad application of genetic engineering procedures to produce plants that resemble varieties has been blocked by the European Court of Justice. Thus, these plants will also have to be labelled as being genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and have to undergo an extensive risk assessment before entering the market.

The case was first initiated by French farmers’ organizations and NGOs in 2015 in front of the highest French administrative court, which asked the ECJ for help by positioning the following questions concerning the interpretation of EU law:

  • Are organisms obtained by mutagenesis, in particular new directed mutagenesis, GMOs?
  • How are Directive 2001/18 on GMOs and Directive 2002/53 on the common catalogue of varieties working together, regarding the definition of GMOs and their respective fields of application?
  • In case all types of mutagenesis are excluded from the scope of Directive 2001/18, could Member States implement their own regulation?  
  • Does Directive 2001/18 (GMOs definition, and its scope) comply with the precautionary principle regarding new genetic engineering techniques

IFOAM welcomes the court’s decision


In a press release, IFOAM EU president Jan Plagge commented on the latest development: “The confirmation by the European Court of Justice that new GMOs will be subject to traceability and labelling is good news for organic breeders, farmers and processors but also for all European producers and consumers as it brings clarity and will ensure the freedom to avoid such GM products and the protection of the environment from the potential risks of these new technologies.”

In addition to that, Eric Gall, Policy Manager at IFOAM EU, stated: “The European Commission cannot delay action anymore and now has to ensure that the EU legal framework is properly enforced by Member States. The Commission should immediately launch a research project to develop detection methods that will complement the traceability system, to ensure an adequate segregation of these new GM plants and to prevent the contamination of organic and conventional GMO-free food and feed production in Europe”, added Eric Gall, Policy Manager at IFOAM EU.

Please also read:

Genome editing: Legal expert criticises opinion of Attorney General of the EuCJ

German Alliance publishes resolution to regulate new genetic engineering processes

USA: CRISPR-Cas technique without labelling





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