Czech Advocate General Michal Bobek has said that genetically modified crops using certain mutagenesis techniques should be exempt from existing GM food regulations.
A press release issued by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) reiterated Bobek’s argument that mutation breeding should not be regulated by GM food laws “provided that they do not involve the use of recombinant nucleic acid molecules or GMOs other than those produced by one or more of the methods listed in Annex IB.”
Techniques referred to in the annex include conventional random mutagenesis, which involves randomly introducing mutations to a gene sequence in order to create a ‘library’ of different versions, and cell fusion of plant cells of organisms, which exchange genetic material through traditional breeding.
Mutagenesis has become common in food production. One variant, radiation breeding, has produced useful mutants such as varieties of rice, wheat and bananas. Mutation breeding is known to increase yield, quality, taste, size, environmental adaptability, and disease resistance.
The press release concluded that: “the advocate general [Bobek] does not see any grounds deriving from the general duty to update legislation…which could affect the validity of the mutagenesis exemption.”
Bobek added that if member states wish to create their own regulations over mutagenesis they are free to do so providing their rules conform to existing EU law.
Mutagenesis under criticism
Bobek’s findings have been thrown into question by some experts. King’s College London head of molecular genetics Dr Michael Antoniou considered the advisory opinion as ‘wrong and potentially dangerous.’
“None of these gene editing methods are perfect…They have ‘off target’ effects that can inadvertently disturb the biochemistry of organisms leading to unintended outcomes which – if you’re making a new gene edited food crop, for example – could result in the unexpected production of a new toxin or allergenic substance.”
Environmental organisation Friends of the Earth Europe called on the CJEU to reject the advisory opinion and ensure the proper regulation of all GM foods and crops.
EU regulators are waiting for a forthcoming ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which will decide whether new regulations should be imposed or the existing laws on GM food updated.
EuropaBio’s secretary-general John Brennan is welcoming clearer regulations on the matter: “The advocate general’s opinion demonstrates that necessary steps are being taken towards clarifying the regulatory status of products that have been developed using the latest biotechnological tools and applications. We trust that the forthcoming ruling will contribute to establishing regulatory clarity.”
The position of Advocate General in the CJEU is to consider submissions to the Court, the advisory opinion is not binding but the Court and the advocate general usually reach the same conclusion. This case could play out differently, however, due to the fair amount of criticism surrounding the controversial nature of mutagenesis.