GM Crop Ruling Shows Why the EU’s Laws Are Wholly Inadequate
The European Court of Justice has made an important ruling on genetically modified crops. Since 2003, new crop varieties produced by genetic modification have had to be assessed for their risks to the environment and human and animal health before they can be farmed in the European Union. The court has now decided that genetic modification includes any technique that induces genetic changes “in a way that does not occur naturally”. This includes new genome editing techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9, but also approaches that have been used in plant breeding since the 1960s.
Some scientists have criticised the court for “shutting the door” on new technologies that could benefit human health and the environment. This is certainly a concern. The ruling will discourage the use of genome editing that could bring significant environmental benefits by making it more expensive for such such crops to clear the necessary regulatory processes.
But the main problem illustrated by this ruling is the deep logical flaw in the whole regulatory approach. Plants that have been bred in more traditional ways, which could have just as serious health or environmental impacts, will continue to be exempt from regulation. Focusing on how a new crop is produced – rather than the new characteristics or agricultural practices it brings – will inevitably result in wholly inadequate protection for the environment and consumers.
Every new crop variety is genetically different from its predecessors. A lot of genetic variation can arise naturally from errors in DNA copying, mutations caused by environmental factors, cross breeding with wild relatives, viruses and many other sources. All this variation is excluded from the EU definition of GM.
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