The European court’s Advocate General has determined that organisms derived by gene editing technologies are exempt from wider EU rules on growing and marketing genetically modified (GM) food.
In a release last week, Advocate General Michel Bobek suggested that the EU’s GMO Directive ‘does not … apply to organisms obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification, such as mutagenesis (‘the mutagenesis exemption’).’
Unlike transgenesis, mutagenesis does not, in principle, entail the insertion of foreign DNA into a living organism. It does, however, involve an alteration of the genome of a living species. The mutagenesis techniques have made it possible to develop seed varieties with elements resistant to a selective herbicide.
Dr Michael Antoniou, the head of the molecular genetics department at King’s College London, said exempting new plant-breeding technologies from GM laws was “wrong and potentially dangerous”.
“None of these gene editing methods are perfect,” he told the Guardian. “They have ‘off target’ effects that can inadvertently disturb the biochemistry of organisms leading to unintended outcomes which – if you’re making a new gene edited food crop, for example – could result in the unexpected production of a new toxin or allergenic substance.”
However, John Brennan, secretary-general of the biotechnology lobby group EuropaBio, said, “The advocate general’s opinion demonstrates that necessary steps are being taken towards clarifying the regulatory status of products that have been developed using the latest biotechnological tools and applications. We trust that the forthcoming ruling will contribute to establishing regulatory clarity.”
The Advocate General’s Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice.
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