Call to EU Commission for clarification of ECJ ruling on plant breeding

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Shaiith
© GettyImages/Shaiith
There was no definite outcome arising out of the MEP debate yesterday on the recent ECJ judgement on gene editing, but some members made an oral request to the European Commission representative to clear up any legal uncertainties in relation to that ruling.

MEPs from AGRI and ENVI Committees held a joint meeting on Monday [January 7] on the controversial decree from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on new plant breeding techniques. That court found organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs and are, in principle, subject to EU GMO legislation. 

Essentially, it was just an exchange views, said Jan Jakubov, a spokesperson for the EU Parliament. There was no vote, he added.

In general, the debate involved MEPs expressing personal opinions, not the party line, on how to approach the topic; a range of ideas were floated by individual members, said the spokesperson.

“The MEPs [used this event] to take stock, to react publically to the ECJ ruling, and to [gauge] the different MEP reactions [to this judgement],”​ he told us.

Nevertheless, there would seem to be a divide along party lines in terms of interpretation of the ECJ decision.

The spokesperson said MEPs from the Greens EU Parliamentary group indicated their support for the judgement. They said that it would not be illegal to use new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) in Europe on this basis of this ruling, only that there is a need for greater scrutiny of these techniques, and NPBTs need to adhere to current EU GM legislation.

Bias towards multinationals

Those who took to the floor from the European People's Party (EPP) Group, said that, based on the ruling, only huge multinationals would be able to proceed with NPBTs, only they would have the means to invest in further NPBT research, given the costs involved in complying with GM legislation.

They implied that SME and start-up scale companies should be able to invest in NPBTs as well, said Jakubov.

“They didn’t say the judgement should not be respected. They just asked the EU Commission [representative present] to come up with guidelines or clarifications on how to proceed; some of them said that, perhaps, the rules need to be changed, to ensure that organisms obtained by mutagenesis are not covered by the GMO legislation.”

The MEPs in question did not give the Commission any deadline in relation to creating those clarifications, he stressed.

“There is not much that can be done before the end of the parliamentary term anyway. There is nothing in the pipeline right now. The Parliament, perhaps, could, come up with a report or an official position after the elections though.”

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