New GM techniques such as genome editing must be fully tested
The EU’s top court ruled today that a controversial new generation of food genetic engineering techniques should be subject to EU safety checks and consumer labelling.
In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice confirmed that new techniques to modify genetic material in plant or animal cells – so called ‘GMO 2.0’ – must undergo the same safety checks for their impacts on the environment and human health as existing genetically modified foods (GMOs).
GMWatch welcomes the ruling. London-based molecular geneticist Dr Michael Antoniou commented, "I'm delighted that the European Court of Justice has been true to the science and not to the lobbying. It sees the new GM techniques, including new mutagenesis techniques based on genome editing, as processes of genetic modification and thus it says that the products derived from these procedures must be subjected to GMO risk assessment and labelling.
"It is particularly insightful of the ECJ that it perceives that the risks arising from these new mutagenesis techniques can be as great as those from old-style transgenesis GM methods. Thus it is important that the organisms derived from these new techniques are subject to the GMO regulatory system."
Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “These new ‘GMO 2.0’ genetic engineering techniques must be fully tested before they are let out in the countryside and into our food. We welcome this landmark ruling which defeats the biotech industry’s latest attempt to push unwanted genetically-modified products onto our fields and plates.”
The biotech industry has been arguing that "new GM" foods and crops should not go through existing EU safety and labelling laws. Today’s decision therefore preserves the EU’s food safety and traceability standards, which would have been threatened by any ambiguity in the ruling.
Mute Schimpf continued: “EU and national lawmakers now need to ensure that all new genetically modified products are fully tested, and they must also support the small-scale, nature-friendly agriculture we urgently need.”
Corporate Europe Observatory’s agribusiness campaigner Nina Holland said: “This is a big victory for the environment, farmers and consumers. It clarifies that EU decision makers have to ensure that products from these new techniques are assessed for potential food safety and environmental risks, and that they are properly labelled as GMOs.
“Big agribusiness corporations will continue their lobbying in Brussels to escape EU safety rules for the new GMOs, but today's ruling leaves no doubt: Products from gene editing are covered by the existing EU GMO rules.
"This ruling also means that the secret, unregulated field trial currently run in Belgium is illegal. The CRISPR-technique does in no way have a "history of safe use", and the plants used in this trial are undoubtedly GMOs. Belgian authorities should act accordingly and halt this trial."
GM Freeze Director Liz O'Neill said: “This case was portrayed by industry as an argument about definition but the court has seen sense and made it clear that what actually matters is how we regulate emerging technologies that have the potential to permanently alter the ecosystem.
“The genome is a far more complex system than we used to believe – more like a biological super-computer than the DNA model my 13-year-old son made for his science homework a few weeks ago. The fact that one can create a passable visual representation of DNA from garden twine, pasta, polystyrene packing balls and four different coloured felt-tips doesn’t mean that altering the genome is as straightforward or predictable as moving those polystyrene balls around.
“All genetic engineering techniques give rise to both unexpected changes and unpredictable real-world impacts. 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.”
 ECJ ruling https://cloud.foeeurope.org/index.php/s/okMF4jP4agmsZgW
Briefing – ECJ ruling: will ‘GMO 2.0’ be introduced to Europe’s fields by the back door? http://www.foeeurope.org/ecj-will-gmo-20-introduce-europe-fields-back-door-160718
The court's judgement is here: