NEWS: “A great day for genetic innovation” - NIAB welcomes EU study’s confirmation of the sustainability benefits of gene editing techniques

29 Apr 2021

NIAB chief executive Dr Tina Barsby welcomed the publication today of the long-awaited European Commission study into the regulatory status of Novel Genomic Techniques (NGT) such as gene editing, and in particular the study’s conclusions that NGT products have the potential to contribute to sustainable food systems with plants more resistant to diseases, environmental conditions and climate change effects, food products with higher nutritional qualities such as healthier fatty acid content, and reduced need for agricultural inputs such as pesticides.

Dr Barsby also welcomed the study’s finding that the EU’s current GMO legislation, adopted in 2001, is not fit for purpose for these innovative technologies, and the announcement that the Commission will now start a wide and open consultation process to discuss the design of a new legal framework for these biotechnologies.

“This is great news. The EU study published today goes further than many in the scientific community were expecting in highlighting the potential benefits of these techniques in providing faster, more precise access to genetic improvement.

“The study was prompted by the problematic European Court judgement of July 2018 classifying the products of all new precision breeding techniques as GMOs, regardless of whether they could have occurred through natural variation or conventional breeding methods. That ruling made no scientific sense and it was at odds with the regulatory stance of most other countries around the world. It is therefore very encouraging that the Commission study explicitly recognises the need for regulatory change.

“The UK Government has consistently made clear its opposition to the ECJ judgement, and the recent Defra consultation on gene editing paves the way for a more enabling and science-based approach to regulating these techniques in England. I hope this clear signal of the need for differentiation between GMOs and gene edited products at an EU level will also encourage the devolved administrations of the UK to recognise the enormous potential of these techniques to support more sustainable, productive and climate-friendly farming practices.

“The successful development and deployment of these techniques will ultimately require a harmonised international regulatory approach, and in terms of signalling the EU’s support for regulatory change today could turn out to be a great day for genetic innovation and its contribution to addressing the urgent global challenges of food security, climate change and sustainable development,” finished Dr Barsby.