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European Court rules gene editing falls under GMO directive

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A European Court ruling today on gene editing could set back cutting-edge research and development in agriculture and even medicine.

In today’s judgement, the European Court of Justice ruled that organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs within the meaning of the GMO Directive, in so far as the techniques and methods of mutagenesis alter the genetic material of an organism in a way that does not occur naturally. The EJC said it follows that those organisms come, in principle, within the scope of the GMO Directive and are subject to the obligations laid down by that directive.

The case was brought forth by Confédération paysanne, a French agricultural union, which defends the interests of small-scale farming. Together with eight other associations, it has brought an action before the Conseil d’État (Council of State, France) in order to contest the French legislation which exempts organisms obtained by mutagenesis from the obligations imposed by the directive on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In particular, that directive provides that GMOs must be authorized following an assessment of the risks which they present for human health and the environment and also makes them subject to traceability, labeling, and monitoring obligations.
 
Confédération paysanne and the other associations argued that mutagenesis techniques have evolved over time. Prior to the adoption of the GMO Directive, only conventional or random methods of mutagenesis were applied in vivo to entire plants. Subsequently, technical progress has led to the emergence of in vitro
mutagenesis techniques which make it possible to target the mutations in order to obtain an organism resistant to certain herbicides. Confédération paysanne
and the other associations take the view that  the use of herbicide-resistant seed varieties carries a risk of significant harm to the environment and to human and animal health, in the same way as GMOs obtained by transgenesis.
 
With this ruling, any food developed with the help of gene editing would need to be labelled as GM. The ruling would also apply to the treatment of genetic disease in humans and to genetically altered animals.
 
However, the court ruled the GMO directive does not apply to, “organisms obtained by means of certain mutagenesis techniques, namely those which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record.”
 
Tags: Agriculture News, Ag Science, Ag Tech, Ag Legislation
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