Controversial gene-edited crops produced using mutagenesis are subject to full GMO regulation, the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday.
The court stated that organisms obtained by mutagenesis - in which traits are removed from genomes rather than foreign DNA being inserted - will no longer be exempt from the obligations imposed on GMOs by the GM directive.
The crops will now only be authorised following a risk assessment and will be subject to traceability, labelling and monitoring obligations.
This puts the trial of gene-edited camelina plants approved by Defra earlier in the year into question. Following the ruling, UK umbrella campaign GM Freeze and not-for-profit group GeneWatch UK wrote to Environment Secretary Michael Gove calling for him to stop what they termed the “unlawful” trial of these crops at Rothamsted Research.
“All genetic engineering techniques give rise to both unexpected changes and unpredictable real-world impacts,” said GM Freeze director Liz O’Neill.
“We are delighted that this ruling will ensure their use in our fields and our food will be subject to detailed safety checks, monitoring and traceability.”
Professor Johnathan Napier, who is leading the trial at Rothamsted Research, said the court’s decision is “disappointing”. “They’re turning their back on what is a revolutionary new technology that could deliver immense benefits to agriculture, human health and life sciences in general.
“It’s going to make trade difficult between Europe and other countries such as the US which is keen on using these new technologies.
“Those with genome-edited material will now not consider commercialising in Europe because it’s going to be classified as GM. The commercial regulatory process is almost impossible in Europe because it takes too long.”
The court’s ruling comes after a French agricultural union called for crops produced using these new controversial techniques to be treated as GMOs. The Confederation Paysanne, along with eight environmental associations, argued that they are potentially harmful to the environment and to human and animal health, in the same way as traditional GMOs obtained through transgenesis in which foreign DNA is inserted.