The EU Court of Justice has ruled that plants and animals created using novel genome editing methods like CRISPR/Cas9 will be classed as genetically modified organisms and therefore have to follow the strict EU guidelines for GMOs.


It was a difficult decision, but finally the court decided for the precautionary principle. The French agricultural trade unions brought up the case to the Court of Justice, because they were afraid about potential risks deriving from unconventional in vitro mutagenesis. The “gene scissors” CRISPR/CAs9 (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) which is mostly related with the French scientist Emmanuelle Carpenterallows a precise cut of DNA at defined points. However, a recent study published in the journal Nature last week found that the gene-editing technology Crispr-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic distortions than expected, with potential “pathogenic consequences”.

Also in the classical way the researcher tries to trigger mutagenesis by e.g. using aggressive chemicals or irradiation in order to manipulate the genome looking for new accidental combinations, hat might show an evolutionary advantage. The novel technique is much more efficient and can speed up the selection of new seeds with new desired properties, e.g. enrichment of a certain ingredient or better robustness.


Waiting for the answer to the question whether the products derived from this novel mutagenesis tools need to be regarded as GMOs and fall under the restrictive EU regulation for genetically modified organisms, or whether they need to treated like products derived from classical breeding research, let the audience hold the breath.

The agri-food industry says the plants obtained through these techniques could also be the product of conventional cross-breeding techniques that mimic natural processes and hence cannot be considered GMOs.


To opponents, they are just another attempt at selling “hidden” GMOs to European farmers, who will simultaneously lose their right to use their own seeds. Their basic argument is that all these techniques should fall under the strict GMO approval process.

Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs,” the Court of Justice said in its ruling on July 25th.They therefore are subject to the obligations laid down by the GMO directive.

From an analytical point of view it is clearly to state that at present it would be impossible to differentiate products created by new plant breeding techniques (NPBT) from conventionally bred new crops. Also the current “GMO”- detection method by PCR analysis fails to identify such genetically engineered products.


Author: Dr. Frank Mörsberger