EU judges: DNA technique plant breeding not subject to strict criteria

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that changing plant species using laboratory techniques does not fall under the European regulation on genetic engineering. This means that the improvement of plant species using test tube techniques remains permitted.

The current European GMO regulation imposes many restrictions on genetic changes in plant and food species because the possible consequences for human and animal health do not conclusively remain outside the risk zone. Environmental organizations believe that any DNA change in plant breeding should fall under those strict rules, but the EU judges reject that.

Chemically or physically induced changes remain part of the current rules for conventional breeding. It does not matter whether the mutation occurred in the plant or in the cell. 

Dutch MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (SGP) is pleased with the court ruling. “This is exactly what SGP wants, namely that new breeding techniques do not fall under the GMO restrictions. This judgment speeds up the breeding process. It is also an important and positive first step towards better plant breeding, including the Crispr-Cas technique.

This can lead to crops that are better suited to climate change, for example, or that require fewer crop protection agents,” said Ruissen when asked in response to Nieuwe Oogst.

The European agricultural umbrella organizations Copa and Cogeca also welcome the statement about “in vitro” random mutagenesis. In their view, European agriculture must be given access to the benefits of innovation in order to be more sustainable. Plant breeders should be able to use certain techniques that shorten their development time by about 10 years.