Aug 8, 2018
Specialty crops industry not stopping for EU’s GMO ruling
Stephen Kloosterman

A recent European Union high court ruling wasn’t favorable for new gene-editing techniques.

The Court Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled in July 2018 that both mutagenesis or genome-editing, and transgenesis – which involves inserting foreign DNA into an organism – produce genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But the court added that “organisms obtained by mutagenesis techniques which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record” could be exempt from its GMO laws.

The ruling will shape the future of agriculture in the EU, and will have an effect on its trading partners. As U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue wrote in a statement responding to the ruling: “The global regulatory treatment of genome-edited agricultural products has strategic innovation and trade implications for U.S. agriculture.” However, specialty crop industry groups aren’t backing away from new technologies for developing plant varieties for sale in the U.S. and other international markets, where the regulations are clearer, or less prohibitive than the EU’s GMO directive.

America American Seed Trade Association Senior Vice President of Domestic & International Policy Bernice Slutsky said in a statement that “the court’s interpretation contradicts the direction many other governments outside of Europe are going with respect to plant breeding innovation policy, and sets a dangerous precedent that could impede global trade and stifle innovation for the future.”

Meanwhile, some organic agricultural groups are encouraged by the ruling. The EU’s legal action was initiated by Confédération paysanne, a French agricultural union that favors small-scale farming. With eight other associations, it brought an action before the Conseil d’État (Council of State, France) in order to contest French legislation that provided exemptions from the GMO Directive.

Regional leaders of the International organics group IFOAM applauded the ruling.

“The confirmation by the European Court of Justice that new GMOs will be subject to traceability and labelling is good news for organic breeders, farmers and processors but also for all European producers and consumers as it brings clarity and will ensure the freedom to avoid such GM products and the protection of the environment from the potential risks of these new technologies,” said Jan Plagge, the president of IFOAM EU.

Top photo: Okanagan Specialty Fruits President Neal Carter picks an Arctic apple. Photo: Okanagan

–    Stephen Kloosterman, Editor

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