EU calls for rethink of GMO rules for gene-edited crops

The European Commission launched a review of EU rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on Thursday, opening the door to a possible loosening of restrictions for plants resulting from gene-editing technology, Reuters reports.

Prompted by a 2018 ruling from the European Union's top court that techniques to alter the genome of an organism should be governed by existing EU rules, the Commission concluded that its 2001 legislation was "not fit for purpose".

A 117-page Commission study found that new genomic techniques (NGTs) had the potential to contribute to sustainable food, while acknowledging there were concerns about safety, the environmental impact and the issue of labelling.

The Commission said it will consult national governments and other interested parties, produce an impact assessment and conduct a public consultation.

Gene-editing technology involves targeting specific genes in a single organism and disrupting those linked to undesirable characteristics or altering them to make a positive change.

Traditional genetic modification, by contrast, involves transferring a gene from one kind of organism to another, a process that still does not have full consumer acceptance.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2018 that crops obtained from techniques that altered the genetic material should be subject to the same rules as GMOs, including checks and labelling on products to show GMO content.

The biotech industry has argued that much of gene editing is little different from the process that occurs naturally and is induced by radiation and that it has the potential to make hardier and more nutritious crops - as well as offering drug companies new ways to fight human disease.

Environmental campaign groups and some farming groups say the way to sustainable farming is by reducing industrial farming and promoting ecology.

Friends of the Earth said the Commission was opening the door to exempting a new generation of genetically modified crops from safety checks and that products containing them might not be labelled on store shelves.

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