Judith Reusser, Million Belay, Zsofia Hock and Tamara Lebrecht (from top left, to bottom right).

11.12.2019

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An article in our 3/2019 edition focusing on “Plant breeding for food security” examined the potential of New Plant Breeding Technologies such as CRISPR/Cas. However, our authors maintain that important aspects were ignored in that article, and that once again, it presents a seemingly “all-knowing North” attitude. Here is their opposing view.

On the 25th July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling stating that organisms obtained by new genetic engineering (GE) techniques, specifically directed mutagenesis techniques, are to be regarded as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As a consequence, these organisms fall under Directive 2001/18 and will have to be regulated as GMOs, and resulting products will have to be labelled as such.

In their article published in Rural 21, Volume 53, Purnhagen and Wesseler do not leave any doubt: they consider the ruling of the ECJ and the regulation of new GE techniques under GMO law as absolutely unfavourable. They correctly state that the ruling by the ECJ is not a ban on new GE techniques, as it is often wrongly being portrayed. Neither is it a ban on research. They do however warn against possible additional costs arising from the GMO approval process and lament presumed indirect negative effects on Africa. In this article, we argue why the ECJ ruling is important to ensure consumer rights as well as environmental and animal protection, and why new GE techniques will fail to eradicate world hunger.

Why do we need a strict regulation of new GE techniques?

Purnhagen and Wesseler falsely claim that the ECJ ruling increases legal uncertainty regarding the new GE techniques, while in fact the opposite is true. With the ECJ ruling, we finally have legal certainty that these techniques are indeed GMOs. The uncertainty mentioned is political. Proponents of exempting products of new GE techniques from regulation often argue that the technique is more precise than random mutagenesis and that some products could also have been developed with conventional breeding methods (albeit more slowly). While it is true that new GE techniques such as CRISPR/Cas can induce cuts at a pre-selected, non-random location, the article fails to mention that precise does not mean safe.

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