The repercussions of the EU ruling on gene-edited crops rumbles on at EU level. On July 25 last year the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that gene-edited crops should be classified as GM and follow the same legislation.

Minister of State, Andrew Doyle, recently sat at the Agrifish council in Brussels where the new breeding techniques were discussed.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the Netherlands sought the agreement of the council that a unified EU approach be taken regarding the implementation of the ruling, having regard to existing EU legislation.

The commission indicated that the implementation of the ruling will be a matter for the incoming commission. However, the current commission will continue to provide support for the implementation of the GMO legislation and requested member states provide support to the proper functioning of the system.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) is responsible for Ireland’s policy on the deliberate release of GMOs.

The DCCAE is supported in its role by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which acts as the competent authority under national GMO legislation.

In other words, anyone wishing to grow gene-edited crops in this country should contact the DCCAE.

What is gene-editing?

Gene-editing is a form of mutagenesis and involves snipping genes within a plant. It is a faster form of conventional breeding.

Gene-editing differs from transgenesis, from which GM crops originate, as transgenesis involves the transfer of a gene from one species to another.

Labelling gene-edited crops

Gene-edited crops are available in many different countries with no differentiation from conventional crops. The ruling by the ECJ last year now means that gene-edited crops must be classified as GM and labelled as such in the EU.

However, labelling these products is not straightforward as it is not always possible or can be extremely difficult to distinguish a gene-edited crop from a conventionally bred crop.

Examples of gene-editing

Gene-editing is currently being used to increase crop yield in cereals, as well as increasing tolerance to crop stress. Scientists are also working on the reduction of gluten in wheat to make it tolerable to those who are gluten sensitive.

More examples of the present projects on gene-editing involve increasing branch numbers on tomatoes to increase yield, as well as increasing the ability of cacao’s ability to fight virus in western Africa.

Scientists and members of the agricultural industry, such as the Irish Grain and Feed Association (IGFA), have expressed their concern at the implementation of the ruling.

Deirdre Webb – director of the IGFA – stated: “We support farmers requests to have access to the best science and technology for their farm enterprises.

Advanced crop breeding can be part of the solution to meeting the challenges of food security and sustainability.

“Given the seriousness of the challenges farmers face right now, regulators and politicians clearly need to take their responsibility in this area seriously,” she concluded.

Stymie research

Speaking to AgriLand shortly after the ruling was made last year, Dr. Barbara Doyle Prestwich of University College Cork stated: “I think that [the ECJ decision] was a very disappointing ruling to say the least.

“The implications for the ruling from the ECJ are that gene-editing will now be regulated in the same way as conventionally genetically modified crops.

So what that means in essence is that it is going to cause major issues in terms of moving ahead with the science in Europe.

“It’s really going to stymie research,” she added.