The European Union’s top court has ruled this week that new genetic modification (GM) techniques such as CRISPR pose similar risks to older GM techniques and need to be assessed for safety in the same way. The ruling directly contradicts the recommendations of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) that a number of these techniques should be deregulated.

Louise Sales, Friends of the Earth’s Emerging Tech Project Coordinator says, “The OGTR and FSANZ have relied almost completely on advice from biotechnology scientists with clear commercial conflicts of interest in making their recommendations and this is reflected in their proposal to deregulate these techniques.”

“More and more evidence is coming to light about the potential risks posed by these new GM techniques. It’s vital that organisms produced using these techniques are assessed for safety before being released into our environment and food chain.”

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist from Kings College London says, “I’m delighted that the European Court of Justice has been true to the science and not to the lobbying. It sees the new GM techniques, including new mutagenesis techniques based on genome editing, as processes of genetic modification and thus it says that the products derived from these procedures must be subjected to GMO risk assessment and labelling.

“It is particularly insightful of the ECJ that it perceives that the risks arising from these new mutagenesis techniques can be as great as those from old-style transgenesis GM methods. Thus it is important that the organisms derived from these new techniques are subject to the GMO regulatory system.”

According to the court ruling, “excluding organisms obtained by new mutagenesis techniques from the scope of the GMO Directive would compromise the objective pursued by that directive, which is to avoid adverse effects on human health and the environment, and would fail to respect the precautionary principle which that directive seeks to implement.”

The Australian Government is currently conducting reviews of the Gene Technology Scheme, its Gene Technology Regulations and how the Food Standards Code applies to these techniques. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks as to whether these techniques will be regulated in Australia.

Ms Sales sales, “These techniques are quite clearly genetic engineering – the fact that our regulators are even considering not regulating them demonstrates how captured they have become by industry interests.”

“It’s time our regulators stopped letting industry write the rules for them and put public health and our environment before private profit”, concluded Ms Sales.