Home > In Focus > European Court of Justice: green light to the deregulation of new GMO

On the morning of February 7, 2023 the European Court of Justice issued a ruling setting the stage for full deregulation of new GMOs. Amidst a long attempt by multinational lobby groups to declare new genomic techniques (also known as new breeding techniques, and gene edited organisms), separate from already standing regulation on GMOs, the courts has ruled that GM organisms obtained by in vitro mutagenesis (gene editing) have a long safety record and are therefore excluded from current GMO regulation in the EU.

This would mean these new GMOs would not have to undergo the same environmental, and healthy checks prior to release as traditional GMOs do. Their release onto farmers fields and onto tables would not be checked, or even traceable, with no obligation to label. There are several highly documented risks associated with these new gene editing technologies, such as the potential for genetic contamination, off target errors causing unintended genetic mutations or even deletions, and the persistence of the CRISPR in cells causing continued damage to DNA. Contrary to what the EU court states, any form of gene editing, using CRISPR-Cas9 or other forms of manipulation, do not have a long standing safety record. These technologies are relatively new, with CRISPR first being discovered and experimented with in 2011. The first scientific paper on gene editing was published as recently as 2012. Hence, there are still several unknowns around the safety of these new technologies, and should therefore not be subject to deregulation, but instead should be governed by the precautionary principle.

Organisms manipulated through in vitro mutagenesis would also remain patentable for biotech companies. With little traceability, farmers would be beholden to a new level of enclosure thanks to even more clandestine control of plant and seed varieties. A direct violation of biosafety and the rights of farmers and people to know what they are eating.  Not to mention, an exacerbation of all known negative effects of GMO crops, such as increased pesticide use, increased fertilizer use and environmental and agrobiodiversity contamination, negative health effects and so on. A domino effect which goes against the fomentation of a truly sustainable and ecological food system.

This ruling comes after a long offensive by the agribusiness lobby to deregulate new and old GMOs at the EU level and in individual EU member states, especially after the 2018 EU court ruling equated these new gene editing techniques to traditional GMOs. Since then agribusiness has been pushing to overturn the ruling, essentially allowing new GMOs to be unlabeled, untested and free to enter EU markets. Lobby claims that due to these new forms of breeding not being done through the conventional transgenesis process, they should not be subject to the same regulations as current GMOs. But as stated by Dr. Vandana Shiva, “it is still a modification of organisms at the genetic level, therefore it is a Genetically Modified Organism, a GMO. Its deregulation is a violation of the rights of people and the integrity of biosafety.”

A deregulation which EU citizens and civil society have been actively opposing and resisting, demonstrated by the 420,000 citizen signatures, and 50 organizations who signed on to the petition to keep new GMOs regulated. Although there has been such a strong civil society and citizen resistance, the current court ruling did not come as a surprise, as a fact-finding study undertaken by the EU commission in 2021 declared these new techniques have the, “potential to contribute to sustainable agri-food systems in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy.” Marking the EU governance’s defense of agribusiness and biotech interests over the concerns of EU citizens.

Navdanya International

Also read: