EU appears to soften gene editing stance

A study recently published by the European Commission says current legislation on genetically modified organisms adopted in 2001 is not up to the task of regu-lating gene-edited crops and is in need of modernization. | Getty Images

The European Union appears to be backtracking on its stance that gene-edited crops should be treated the same way as genetically modified crops.

A study recently published by the European Commission says current legislation on genetically modified organisms adopted in 2001 is not up to the task of regulating gene-edited crops and is in need of modernization.

Ian Affleck, vice-president of plant biotechnology with CropLife Canada, called it a positive development for Canadian farmers, seed developers and grain companies.

“This report is sending a lot of positive signals that Europe should move in a better direction on gene editing than they went on GMOs,” he said.

The study was prepared at the request of the Council of the European Union after agriculture ministers across the EU objected to a 2018 ruling from the European Court of Justice that gene-edited crops would be regulated the same way as GM crops.

Copa-Cogeca, an organization representing European farmers and agri-co-operatives, was pleased with the findings of the report.

“This study reverses the ruling of the European Court of Justice and takes a factual and science-based approach on the issue, which the previous ruling was clearly lacking,” the group said in a news release.

Friends of the Earth Europe said the report is a win for the biotech industry and bad news for farming, the environment and public health.

“The European Commission has fallen hook, line and sinker for the biotech industry’s spin and has set the future of food and farming in the EU down a dark path today,” Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner for the organization, said in a news release.

Affleck was heartened that the report mentioned how gene editing could help the EU meet the objectives set out in the European Green Deal and its Farm-to-Fork Strategy.

“To hear them seeing a possibility to embrace technology I think is really positive and encouraging,” he said.

It provides hope that Europe will become less of a trade barrier when it comes to new technologies and that its new regulations may align with the ones Health Canada is promoting.

Health Canada released proposed new guidelines in March stating that gene editing is just as safe as conventional plant breeding and will not be subject to the same rigorous pre-market assessment as GM crops.

That proposal raised the ire of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

“Downloading responsibility for food safety assessment to product developers is not acceptable,” CBAN co-ordinator Lucy Sharratt said in a news release.

Health Canada’s consultations on its proposed new policy for the food side of gene-edited crops ends on May 24.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is expected to come out with its proposed policy on the environment in spring and on feed use in summer.

Affleck hopes the CFIA’s policies align with Health Canada’s and by the end of the year there will be final guidance documents stating there will be no pre-market assessment for gene-edited crops in this country.

Canada will then be in a position to help guide EU regulators in developing their new system, which he suspects will likely be two years in the making, involving further consultations and an impact assessment.

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