ECJ to rule on new breeding techniques

The Greens in Parliament have insisted that new plant breeding techniques should be subject to the same impact assessments and labelling requirements as existing GMOs.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

23 Jul 2018

The demand comes ahead of a keenly-awaited court ruling later this week on the legal status of food and feed crops derived from certain new genetic modification techniques.

On Wednesday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will deliver its judgment on the legal status of a group of biotechnologies known as ‘new breeding techniques’ by the biotech industry.

The Court will have to determine whether these techniques equate to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and whether some of them will be exempted from the impact assessments, traceability and labelling requirements of the 2001 EU GMO directive. 


Biotech developers have been working on a new generation of GM techniques to create new food crops, trees, farm animals and insects, and have filed corresponding patents.

After the French Conseil d’Etat referred questions regarding the legal status of products from these new techniques to the ECJ, the EU court will rule on whether or not these products are to be regulated as GMOs, given that the techniques to produce them emerged after the EU’s 2001 law on GMOs was introduced.

The ruling is meant to help clarify whether, and if so which of, these new GM products should be subjected to testing and labelling requirements applicable to the products of GM techniques that were known when the law was written. 

According to the opinion issued in January by the Advocate General of the ECJ, an organism obtained by mutagenesis may be a GMO if it meets the material criteria of the GMO directive without being subject to its obligations. 

The ECJ official said that even if all food and crops derived from new GM techniques were to be considered GMOs, some of them may not have to be subject to the same risk assessment, labelling, and monitoring as existing GMOs.

Faced with difficulties in introducing GMOs into the EU and the threat of a ban on certain pesticides (including those containing glyphosate), the food industry has turned to new GMOs.

Speaking on Monday, Bart Staes, Parliament’s Greens/EFA group spokesperson on GMOs, said, “Modifying the concept of what is considered genetically modified cannot be used as a way of avoiding EU checks and balances on biotechnologies.”

The Belgian deputy added, “New techniques should be subject to the same impact assessments and labelling requirements as existing GMOs. Especially because recent scientific publications show that these new techniques might not be so precise as some claim them to be, as they show unintended effects. 

“These patented organisms have the potential to only further increase our dependence on agri-chemical multinationals and perpetuate the cycle of pesticide pollution, unfair pricing and the destruction of ecosystems. 

“The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) must examine new genetically modified organisms for risks to human, animal and environmental health in the same way as it does for traditionally modified seeds.” 

On the eve of the ECJ ruling, the Brussels-based pressure group, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) said “a lot is at stake” for the EU on this issue.

In a statement, CEO said, “The EU is party to the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which obliges it to respect other countries’ rights to refuse certain GMOs. If a party to the treaty, in this case the EU, were to not monitor and label certain GMO varieties it exports, this party will be unable to respect its obligations under the Cartagena Protocol.

“The biotech industry has been making an audacious bid to have products of the new generation of genetic engineering techniques exempted from existing EU regulation for GMOs. With dozens of patents for new GM techniques already filed, the patent holders including big agrochemical corporations like Bayer/Monsanto, BASF, and Dow Agrosciences have great financial stakes in keeping the regulation for their techniques as minimal as possible - at the possible expense of public health and the environment.”

CEO went on, “If successful, the biotech industry lobby campaign could lead to new GM organisms and foods entering the environment and the food chain untested, unlabelled and non-traceable.

“Scientists, consumer groups, farmers and NGOs have called for products from gene editing and other new GM techniques to be regulated under existing GMO rules, as any new approach to producing food and feed crops should be fully tested and its products labelled to ensure their safety for the public and the environment.”


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