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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

New GM techniques

A recent victory for environmental campaigners saw the European Court of Justice rule on 25 July 2018 that new genetic engineering techniques count as GM and must be properly regulated.

Why does it matter?

CGI snapshot of a DNA double helixEuropean GM regulations mean that GM food and crops are risk-assessed, traceable and labelled. However, a large number of new genetic engineering techniques have been developed since the EU’s GM regulations were developed.

Many different media-friendly names are given to these new techniques, including “new plant breeding techniques”, “advanced breeding techniques” and “bioengineered”. But it isn’t the name that matters, it’s the fact that all of this re-branding is an attempt to avoid proper regulation.

Proponents claim that techniques such as CRISPR and other forms of genome editing  are different because they are more precise and don’t usually add genes from other species. However, they do involve changing the genome in the lab in ways we are only just beginning to understand.

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

They are not as precise as we are led to believe and 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. News stories are now cropping up regularly highlighting new issues with CRISPR to name just one.
Genetic engineering techniques are often developed by start-ups and universities but the six largest biotech companies already own more than 70% of the patents and licenses associated with ‘GM 2.0’.

All genetic engineering techniques must be subject to proper regulation and traceability, whatever name you give them.


A closeup of a green DNA double helix that is sweating droplets of black oil


FIND OUT MORE: articles and blogs

Image from GM Watch leafletLeaflet from GM Watch – Coming to your dinner plate soon?

Leaflet from IFOAM EU (organic umbrella group) – All Techniques of Genetic Modification Must be Regulated

Forcing the Farm – how gene drive organisms could entrench industrial agriculture and threaten food sovereignty. Information from ETC Group, including links to a detailed report and letter signed by organisations from around the world, including GM Freeze.

CRISPR gene editing produced unwanted DNA deletions – article in Nature about new academic research published in their journal Nature Biotechnology

Opinion Divides Opinion – GM Freeze blog on the ECJ Advocate General’s opinion on the legal status of mutegenesis

GM Freeze Director Liz O’Neill discussing the European Court Advocate General’s opinion on the legal status of mutagenesis, on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today (available to listen until 20 February 2018)

‘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

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

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

FIND OUT MORE: reports, papers and briefings

GM Freeze evidence to Nuffield Council on Bioethics inquiry on genome editing and farmed animals

European Court of Justice ruling regarding new genetic engineering methods scientifically justified: a commentary on the biased reporting about the recent ruling – Peer-reviewed paper in Environmental Sciences Europe, December 2018

Old lobby, new language –  A GM Watch guide to some of the new terminology being used to “re-brand” new forms of genetic engineering, focusing on SDNs

ECJ ruling: will ‘GMO 2.0’ be introduced to Europe’s Fields through the back door?   – Briefing from Friends of the Earth, Europe (in advance of the ECJ ruling)

Briefing on the European Court of Justice ruling on genetically modified crops produced via mutagenesis – from Beyond GM (in advance of the ECJ ruling)

Products of new genetic modification techniques should be strictly regulated as GMOs – Statement from the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibilty.

Resolution on consumer concerns about new genetic engineering techniques – Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue

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