The European Court of Justice has today ruled that ‘Organisms obtained by mutagenesis techniques are GMOs and are, in principle, subject to the obligations laid down by the GMO directive’. 

Modern mutagenesis techniques in plant breeding, such as Crispr/Cas9 and others which modify the genome of a living species without the insertion of foreign DNA, have been deemed by the Court to generate mutations which would not occur naturally. As such, organisms obtained by mutagenesis have been ruled to be genetically modified organisms, and will be subject to the GMO directives. 

Conventional mutagenesis techniques, which generate random mutations, such as in vivo chemical and radiation exposure, will remain exempt from the directive. 

Commenting on the ruling, Professor Sir Pete Downes, President of the Biochemical Society, said: 

“In order to meet global food demands while remaining within sustainable development targets, it is essential that we increase the % yield of our crop production. Modern plant breeding techniques are one such way to increase production yield and are already employed by a number of countries worldwide. The Society recognizes the importance of regulating genome-editing techniques, but we are disappointed that plant scientists, breeders and farmers in Europe will not be able to employ the newest and fastest methods in crop breeding. This decision will undoubtedly limit potential for crop genetic research and innovation in the EU and will render European farmers and plant breeders at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to their non-European counterparts.”