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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 42 New Delhi October 6, 2018

Highest European Court Ruling Confirms Serious Risks of Gene-Edited Crops

Sunday 7 October 2018, by Bharat Dogra

At a time when more and more people in the world are becoming concerned about the serious health risks and numerous other adverse impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the enormously powerful billion-dollar GMO multinationals have tried once again to introduce confusion and uncertainty in public mind by coming up with the concept of gene-edited crops and claiming that these should not be subject to the same restrictions as GM crops. However, in July 2018 the highest court in Europe ruled that gene-edited crops should be subject to the same strict rules and regulations as GM crops.

Earlier a review of the legal and scientific facts surrounding this debate by Dr Janet Cotter and Dr R. Steinbrecher (published in the Ecologist) had concluded: “It is clear that gene-edited crops and animals need to be assumed as GMOs in the same way as current GM crops.” The court verdict is along similar lines.

With gene editing researchers can add, delete or modify bits of an organism’s genome. The European Court has said that any crops edited using CRISPR or other gene-editing techniques must abide by the same laws restricting the use of GMOs. More specifically the Court concluded it “considers that the risks linked to the use of these new mutagenesis techniques might prove to be similar to those that result from production and release of a GMO through transgenesis, since the direct modification of the genetic material of an organism through mutagenesis makes it possible to obtain the same effects as the introduction of foreign gene into the organism (trans-genesis) and these new techniques make it possible to introduce genetically modified varieties at a rate out of all proportion to those resulting from the application of conventional methods of mutagenesis”.

Welcoming the court verdict, Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU’s Food Policy Director, said: “Releasing these new GMOs into the environment without proper safety measures is illegal and irresponsible, particularly given that gene editing can lead to unintended side-effects... The European Commission and the European governments must now ensure that all new GMOs are fully tested and labeled, and that any field trials are brought under GMO rules.”

A spokesperson of Friends of the Earth said: “We applaud the European Court of Justice for this forward looking decision.”

We may add that this will be also useful in countries like India where highly powerful and resourceful multinationals and their local agents are trying all sorts of deceit to somehow spread more and more GMOs.

The author is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.

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