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EU court rules GMO laws apply to gene-edited plants

EU court rules GMO laws apply to gene-edited plants
- Expert Reaction
26 July 2018

Europe’s highest court has ruled that gene-edited crops should be subject to the same stringent regulations as genetically modified organisms.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that crops created through processes such as CRISPR are subject to the 2001 directive that legislates deliberate release of GMOs into the environment.

The Science Media Centre gathered expert reaction on the ruling. Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

More comments from the UK SMC are available on our website. We'll update that page with any further comments.
Professor Peter Dearden, Director Genomics Aotearoa and University of Otago, comments:
also commented earlier in the year on an FSANZ consultation on how to regulate gene-edited food.

"The EU ruling that gene edited organisms need to be regulated in the same way as GMOs will be a major blow to those in the EU developing novel crops using gene editing techniques. Here in New Zealand, such a determination appears to have been already made, so the EU decision will have little impact here.

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"The problem is that we, and the EU, yet again, are trying to regulate technologies rather than outcomes. Gene editing is a far more accurate way to make a mutation than standard mutagenesis techniques. That the more efficient, less damaging and more specific approach is the one vastly more heavily regulated is unfortunate. In the end, the key things to test are the risks and benefits of the organism to be released. Surely this is more important than the way it was made.

"What worries me, and our EU colleagues, is that these determinations will stop innovation in gene editing in NZ or the EU. That loss of capability and capacity will mean we will lose the ability to deploy a technology that, if well used, carefully assessed, and appropriately regulated, could be immensely beneficial to New Zealand in health, agriculture and conservation.

No conflict of interest.
Professor Barry Scott, Massey University and co-chair of the Royal Society Te Apārangi gene editing panel, comments:

"This is hugely disappointing and does not seem to take into account the significant differences in the new gene editing technologies compared to the older technologies. Subjecting the new technologies to the rules and regulations of the older technologies does not appear to take into account the increased scientific knowledge and precision associated with the former. It maintains a process of 'technology-based' regulation rather than 'outcome-based' regulation which should be the basis of a sound risk management decision making process.

"Such regulation will stifle innovation and development and make it very difficult for the agriculture sector to develop breeding solutions to a rapidly changing environment and therefore enhance the risks of real issues around food security associated with new diseases and the impacts of climate change."

No conflict of interest.
Dr Kieran Elborough, General Manager Science, New Cultivar Innovation, Plant & Food Research, comments:

"It is important to clarify that this is a court ruling to determine where a technology fits within existing regulations, not a scientific paper detailing the safety or efficacy of these technologies. The decision by the EU court deals specifically with how this technology is regulated in Europe. This is an example of the challenges faced by regulators as potential new solutions to important issues such as food sustainability and security in the face of a growing population and climate change emerge.

"Over time, it will be interesting to see whether new, more detailed regulations develop to restrict or enable this or other new technologies around the world, including in New Zealand.

"Gene editing is a relatively new technology and Plant & Food Research is investigating how we could apply this technology in plants, as proof of concept in containment. It’s important that we understand the potential of this technology and how this could be applied to benefit New Zealand. This will continue to inform any discussion in this country."


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