The European Court of Justice has ruled that altering living things using genome editing counts as genetic engineering.
This means that anything developed with the help of gene editing would need to be labelled as GM. The ruling would also apply to a range of burgeoning areas, such as the treatment of genetic disease in humans and to genetically altered animals.
Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology at the University of South Wales, said the decision “would appear to cause all new genome edited organisms to be regulated as if they were derived from classical ‘GM’ or transgenic methods as developed in the 1980s.”
Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy, Farming and Land Use at Soil Association, said: “Soil Association welcomes the ECJ’s judgment that organisms obtained by these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs within the meaning of the GMO directive and should be subject to the obligations laid down by that directive.
“We have always been clear that these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs and therefore are banned in organic farming and food. This position is shared within the organic sector at the European (IFOAM EU) and international level (IFOAM Organics International), and by many scientists.
“The outcome of gene editing is to manipulate and alter the genome in a laboratory to make a new organism. This is the very definition of genetic engineering, and gene editing risks introducing similar uncertainties and unintended consequences as genetic modification of DNA.
“Soil Association will continue to encourage the cultivation of open pollination seeds, which can help farmers adapt to a changing climate by breeding drought and pest tolerant plants. Breeding crops in this way has proven to be lower-cost, faster and more effective than GM, particularly when informed by new technologies like Marker Assisted Selection, based on our new knowledge of the genome.”