Not binding, but setting an example. Many African countries adopt the EU view when it comes to plant breeding. This could also apply to the recent CJEU judgement on NPBTs.


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New plant breeding technologies (NPBTs) allow biotic and abiotic problems in crop production to be addressed much faster and more precisely than conventional ones. Legal regulations governing the use of technologies vary from country to country. Above all the latest ruling by the European Court of Justice has sparked debate. Our authors look at the implications that the decision taken by the European Union could have for African agriculture and call on African policy-makers not to reject certain strategies and technologies out of hand.

A debate has emerged about the proper regulation of New Plant Breeding Technologies (NPBTs) such as genome editing. A recent judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stipulated that, for the EU market, many of the NPBTs need to follow the provisions applicable to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In its decision, the Court interpreted EU law in a conservative way, based on the scientific information provided to the Court during the proceedings. It interpreted the existing exemption for organisms obtained by mutagenesis restrictively, exempting only techniques that “have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record”. This interpretation pulled many NPBTs such as CRISPR/Cas within the ambit of the GMO law. The decision by the CJEU has been criticised by many, most notably the scientific community and the plant breeding sector. Contrary to what is sometimes assumed, the decision does not imply a total ban of such novel techniques in the EU market.

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