EU calls for study to justify 2018 gene-editing legislation

A landmark decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2018 changed the way gene-editing technology should be treated under EU law. This followed years of disputes, ending in the ruling that plants and animals created using this technology should be treated and regulated under the GMO Directive as though they were genetically modified.

However, this led to controversy, with conflicting views between environmental groups, who were mostly in favour of the ruling, and the biotech industry, which has invested millions into the technology. Because of this the EU has requested a study from the Commission to gain clarity on the situation.

Despite this, what the ruling actually means in reality remains unclear. At a recent event, Finnish agriculture minister Jari Leppa said the council requested the study on “options to update the existing legislation” and that “if necessary, the Commission must be prepared to submit a proposal to amend the GMO directive”.

The study will need to be submitted by April 2021, and although the aims aren’t clear, it’s felt that it is necessary to answer “practical questions which have consequences for the national competent authorities, the Union’s industry, in particular in the plant breeding sector, research and beyond” – a concern that was raised when the legislation came into place.

It must also include a solution to the issue of how the EU can “ensure compliance when products obtained by means of NBTs cannot be distinguished, using current methods, from products resulting from natural mutation”. It says the Commission should “submit a proposal, if appropriate in view of the outcomes of the study”.

MEP Paolo De Castro, group coordinator at the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee said the ECJ ruling represents “a legal drawback that it is crucial to solve”. He added that after the ruling, “prompt and efficient interventions by the legislators are needed in order to take into accounts the latest innovations and technologies and differentiate them from traditional GMOs” and that “this point will be one of our main priorities for the new European Parliament term”.

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