When is a GMO not a GMO?

The European Commission is months over due with a crucial decision on whether or not a set of seven new genetic manipulation techniques should officially count as GM. Why does it matter?

In Europe, GM techniques are regulated. The system is far from perfect but it's a lot better than nothing and if food or crops produced using GM methods do get the go-ahead to be grown or imported they are traceable and labelled. That could all change if a group of so called "new plant breeding techniques" escape legal classification as GM.

The techniques in question are not listed in the EU directive that sets out the rules on GM, because they weren't invented when that directive was written.

Proponents claim they are more precise than current GM methods and that they shouldn't "count" as GM because they don't usually add in genes from other species. However, they do involve changing the genome in the lab and share most of the same risks as more established GM techniques, as well as many new ones of their own.

These new breeding techniques have no history of safe use and must be subject to proper regulation because:

Precision is not the same as predictability. All of these techniques can give rise to unexpected effects.

Any problems that do occur will be incredibly difficult to put right as genetic pollution cannot be “mopped up”.

Many of these techniques are so new that very little is known about how they work and what could go wrong.

Any crops they produce will be patented, handing more control from farmers to big biotech companies.

GM Freeze believes that these techniques cannot currently help create a world in which our food is produced responsibly, fairly and sustainably and that they must be subject to proper regulation and traceability.

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FIND OUT MORE: articles and blogs

'New Breeding Techniques' and synthetic biology - genetic engineering by another name

New GMO techniques in a legal limbo

GM Freeze Director guest blog on Ethical Consumer website

CRISPR has off-target effects that researchers have been ignoring

God's Red Pencil? article in Independent Science News


The case for classifying gene editing techniques as GM, in The Ecologist

Greenpeace blog

Biotech lobby and the NBT Platform, in The Ecologist

International consumer forum calls for regulation and labelling of products derived from new genetic engineering techniques

FIND OUT MORE: reports, papers and briefings

Joint position statement from European civil society organisations, including GM Freeze

Scientific briefing from EcoNexus

GM Freeze evidence to Nuffield Council on Bioethics call for evidence on Genome Editing

Position paper from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) EU

Greenpeace technical report

Report on biotech lobby activities in this area from Corporate Europe Observatory 

Open letter from GeneWatch UK to the European Commission