At the latest meeting of EU agriculture ministers, and following a report by the Danish Council of Ethics, 14 EU member states, led by the Netherlands and Estonia, called for the European Commission to re-evaluate the EU’s stance on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in particular those created by new plant breeding techniques.

In a ruling last year (Case C-528/16) the European Court of Justice (ECJ) stated that organisms obtained by targeted mutagenesis should be considered GMOs; therefore subjecting them to the strict safety and marketing obligations as outlined in the GMO-Directive (Directive 2001/18/EC) (see our previous blog post “ECJ: Organisms obtained by new mutagenesis plant breeding techniques are not exempted from the GMO Directive“). The Ethics Council has stated that new plant breeding techniques such as CRISPR “changes the GMO discussion”, as the technique is vey precise in allowing a gene to be deleted out or inserted in to the plants, there is no foreign DNA added.

The Dutch Ethics Council has stressed that there is over 20 years of research to show that there is “no scientific evidence that genetic modification in and of itself carries more risk than conventional plant breeding techniques”. The report suggests that gene edited crops could be more resilient to drought, high temperatures and salinisation. These crops could also be engineered to produce higher yields on smaller areas of land, as well as to have increased resistance to plant pests, reducing the need for pesticides. A combination of traits that can contribute to alleviating or solving mankind’s pressing problems, including climate change and population growth.

The Commission has asked that EU member states provide the necessary data in order to help the EU executive to come up with a “robust response” to the EU court’s ruling and draft a legislative response for the next Commission. Speaking after the meeting EU agriculture Commissioner said he “expects that a new initiative will be required in the next Commission”