EU Commission to run a study after ECJ ruling that targeted mutagenesis methods are regulated under the provisions of the GMO-Directive


In 2018 the European Court of Justice took the view that Member States are free to subject organisms obtained by certain mutagenesis techniques including CRISPR* to the GMO Directive and other obligations under the free movement of goods.

Already in April 2019 CEMA supported a wide spread action of the agri-food chain (open letter to the Member States in ScoPAFF – Standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed), being in full agreement with scientists, stakeholders and EU trade partners, that it has become urgent for the EU to adapt its legislation to reflect and welcome technical progress and align it with the legislation in  other leading parts of the world.

Commissioner Hogan at the time accepted that “the vast majority” of Member States were looking for the Commission to come up with an initiative to deal with the legal situation on gene-editing.

ScoPAFF has met again on 15 January. The main outcome is that the Commission will execute a study and will ask Member States and stakeholders to provide feedback.

CEMA is invited by DG SANTE to participate in a stakeholder consultation as part of the study, and will collaborate with other assocations for common vision and input.

For your information: the CRISPR technology, developed in 2012, has made it far simpler, quicker and more accurate to alter genes without inserting genetic material from other species. It enables a more accurate modification than the previous techniques. Many people therefore use the term 'gene editing' or, when the changes do not introduce external genetic material into the plant but merely knocks out selected genes, the term 'precision mutagenesis' about changes produced by CRISPR.

Some examples widely known are those linked to four types of crops (soya beans,maize, cotton and oilseed) and two types of traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance). These are also those that are most dominant and widespred in the rest of the world.

But CRISPR could also be used to develop plants that are more resistant to disease, that are healthier to eat and can keep for longer i.e. so reducing food waste.

In addition, varieties with beneficial climate traits are developed, including:

  • Varieties that are high-yielding and thus area-efficient while being able to survive with less fertilisation, spraying or ploughing (e.g. de novo domesticated tomato)or store more CO2 in the roots (e.g. perennial grains) (climate mitigation),
  • Varieties that can adapt to the climate changes, e.g. by being drought resistant or salt tolerant (climate adaptation).