Following an ongoing public debate on the regulation of the use of plants derived from so-called new genomic techniques, a draft amendment to the EU’s genetic engineering legislation was published on June 16, 2023, the EU Commission’s draft revision of the Genetic Engineering Law has been released to the public.
Relevance and significance
The New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) include methods such as the CRISPR-Cas gene scissors, which can be used to specifically modify individual DNA building blocks without inserting foreign DNA segments.
The application of these NGTs can help develop plants with improved adaptive capabilities to counter the effects of climate change. Thanks to targeted genetic modifications, crops can already be developed that have increased resistance to disease, drought and other environmental stressors. This can increase yields and make food production more efficient to ensure a sustainable food supply for a growing world population.
The legislation draft
It is expected that the official proposal will be presented by the EU Commission in July.
The above-mentioned draft legislation proposes that in the future, certain category 1 NGT plants, which could also be bred in a conventional way, will be exempted from the strict approval procedures. The Leopoldina, the National Academy of Sciences, also shares a similar position. Regardless, the strict genetic engineering rules should continue to apply to the field of organic agriculture. For transparency, the Commission is aiming for a public database that introduces seed labeling and relevant information in variety catalogs. Varieties that do not fall into Category 1, for example because genes from another species have been introduced, would continue to be subject to labeling requirements and the existing approval process.
The position of GASB
We as the German association for Synthetic Biology welcome the Commission’s proposal, as this would be a step towards a science-based regulation of NGTs, and can contribute to making our agriculture more sustainable. As already pointed out by environmental NGOs such as the Öko-Progressives Netzwerk e. V., we are of the opinion that the current regulation is not feasible in practice, as plants produced by NGTs cannot be distinguished from conventionally bred varieties.