Published 2021-05-21

This post is also available in Swedish

EU open to amending gene scissors law

The purpose of the Växtnoden (‘The Plant Node’) project is knowledge and dialogue about modern plant breeding. When it became clear the European Commission is creating scope for possible legislative amendments affecting the ‘gene scissors’ method (CRISPR-Cas9), for example, the project issued invitations to a webinar for a presentation and analysis of the report.

Previously, Mistra has described field trials of a potato variety resistant to late blight, developed at the Mistra Biotech research programme (2012–19) using the CRISPR-Cas9 method, popularly known as ‘gene scissors’. This technique currently falls under the genetically modified organism (GMO) legislation, which is obstructing the enormous advances in plant breeding that gene scissors can bring, according to some SLU researchers.

At the Plant Node webinar on 11 May, Grönt ljus för gensaxen i EU? (’Green light for gene scissors in the EU?’), the European Commission’s Study on the status of new genomic techniques under Union law and in light of the Court of Justice ruling in Case C-528/16 was presented and analysed.

‘First, the report lays down that new genomic techniques have great potential — that they can contribute to the European Green Deal and EU Biodiversity Strategy, and to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It also shows that research into new techniques has been hit hard since the earlier court ruling that new mutagenesis techniques yield products that must be regulated under GMO legislation. The conclusion is that the legislation needs updating,’ says Dennis Eriksson, researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), who is involved in the Plant Node.

At the same time, the report says that products developed with new genomic techniques must remain subject to GMO regulation; but what this means in practice remains to be seen, Eriksson says. He thinks this may mean two different policy options: one of changing the GMO definition and the other of adding an exemption for techniques not involving the introduction of foreign DNA.

‘But there may be completely different legislative amendments as well, and it’s a bit worrying that there’s no saying what they may turn out to be.’

Mistra has contributed funding to the Plant Node. The initiative enables skills and results from Mistra Biotech (2012‒19) to keep being applied.

Watch the May webinar (in Swedish) here.