The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) made a ruling today that gene-edited crops should be regulated in the same way as conventionally genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This 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.

Researchers not happy

Speaking to Nature – International Journal of Science – Kai Purnahagen, a legal scholar in Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, stated that: “It means, for all new inventions such as CRISPR-Cas9 food, you would need to go through the lengthy approval process of the EU.”

Purnhagen went on to describe how companies investing in the techniques will move somewhere else, along with the research.

Many scientists, chemical companies and researchers do not agree with the ruling as they argue that gene-editing can contribute to food production, as plant traits for yield and disease resistance can be improved.

Across the water in the UK, Rothamsted Research has a field trial underway investigating a crop of camelina which had a gene removed using CRISPR to change the mix of its oils.

France called for the examination of the directive

Some environmentalists have welcomed the decision as they see these new techniques as a way of introducing genetically-modified crops into the food chain under a different label.

According to Nature, in 2016, the French Government asked the ECJ to interpret the directive in light of new plant-breeding techniques that have emerged since 2001.