Synthetic DNA Gene Editing Abstract Illustration

Lawyers say the only way to exempt "new GM" techniques from risk assessment and labelling is to change the legislation. Claire Robinson reports

In the wake of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that certain "new GM" techniques fall under GMO legislation, legal experts hired by a GMO lobby group have said that the only way to exempt the new techniques from GMO risk assessment and labelling is to change the EU's GMO law.

In advice to the New Breeding Techniques (NBT) Platform, which represents companies and research organisations that oppose the court ruling, Greetje van Heezik and Fleur Tuinzing-Westerhuis of the Dutch law firm Houthoff confirmed that products of the new techniques would be subject to the EU's GMO regulatory procedure. This means that they could only be placed on the market after a risk assessment and would have to carry a GMO label.

Van Heezik and Tuinzing-Westerhuis state, "The responsibility to trace back the applied methods resides within the plant breeders, growers and other stakeholders along the value chain. As a consequence, given the major investments for the safety assessment and labelling requirements, it will be harder to develop profitable business applications which make it worthwhile bringing certain products on the market."

The lawyers say that a "modification" of the GMO legislation or "a new legislation" is the only way for products of the new GM techniques to be exempted from GMO regulations.

The lawyers add that "The European Commission can provide specific rules and guidance with regard to exempted techniques for stakeholders, based on the text of the ruling."

In a statement that foresees GMO lobby doom-mongering about the supposedly dire economic consequences of the ruling, the lawyers say, "What could happen at a later stage is that policy makers realise the severe consequences of the ruling or its subsequent developments and thus decide to facilitate the risk assessment for new techniques, enabling a modification of Directive 2001/18 in favour of the NBTs."

However, they add, "At the moment NBTs have to undergo the individual authorisation procedure".

The lawyers advise that it is now "up to the industry to provide sound evidence that certain new techniques of mutagenesis are as safe or even safer than traditional ones. In the current political climate such evidence seems to be required in order to enable a modification of Annex I B of the GMO Directive 2001/18 by the European legislator existing in an extension of the exemption to NBTs."

The lawyers conclude, "The European Commission has been reluctant to take position so far, but, given the impact of the ruling and the interests of the various sectors in facilitating the NBTs, it is likely that there will be discussions in the respective directorates of the European Commission, in the Council and the European Parliament with regard to the possible steps that can be taken following the ECJ ruling."

Members of the NBT Platform include Syngenta and the UK research institutes Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre.

The NBT Platform believes, contrary to the legal ruling from the ECJ, that "most products derived through the use of NBTs are not considered GMOs".

This is scientifically and technically, as well as legally, incorrect. The vast majority of organisms produced by new GM techniques are clearly GMOs under existing definitions relevant to the EU.

But since when did the GMO lobby let science and democratically established law stand in the way of their monetary ambitions?