Debating the GM ruling when horse has bolted

It may be a case of closing the gate when the horse has bolted, but some MEPs are now questioning the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that gene-edited crops should be regulated in the same way as conventionally genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

A joint meeting between the European committee on the environment, public health and food safety and the committee on agriculture and rural development took place on January 7.

The committees debated new breeding techniques and the decision by the ECJ to regulate gene-edited crops in the same way as GMOs.

MEPs views

Some MEPs are very much supportive of the ruling and would like stronger controls. However, others stated that the EU will become uncompetitive and will end up importing food that is produced using these methods.

Many researchers and members of industry have also sited how difficult it is to actually identify a gene-edited crop and therefore implement the ruling.

Speaking at the debate MEP Mairead McGuinness stated: “This is an important debate, but it’s all about everybody’s opinion.

“We have a ruling and you can either agree or disagree, but the ruling stands. What are the consequences of the ruling, not just for industry, but for research and innovation and for farmers and consumers?

I’ve heard some colleagues say that EU consumers don’t want this technology and of course that gets reported as being fact and I think we should be very careful about putting words into the mouths of consumers.

“I do think all research needs has to be controlled and we need to know the implications, but if conventional mutagenesis is allowed, but specific mutagenesis is not then I want to know why and what the difference is, or if there is a difference at all.”

McGuinness stated that the discussion needs to be based on facts and science.

“I think it is very much a scientific discussion we should have. We all of course come with our own baggage.

I come from a member state that doesn’t grow GMO, but we use it in animal feed, as do most countries; in fact all member states do because we rely on imported protein.

“We need to be mature about this debate and understand the consequences of the ruling and look at whether the legislation that currently exists, that this ruling applies to, is fit for purpose,” McGuinness concluded.

The ECJ ruling

The ECJ ruling means that GMO legislation that came into effect in 2001 – which regulates the planting and sale of EU crops – will now include mutagenesis techniques, that were developed after 2001 and are not exempt from the law. Gene-editing is one of these techniques.

CRISPR is a common form of gene-editing. The technique involves changes to DNA. It does not involve the insertion of genes from other species.

CRISPR food crops will now have to go through the same regulations and hurdles as traditional GMOs.

The court did state that exemptions may be obtained for some techniques which have been used conventionally and which have a long and safe record.