New genomic techniques: European Commission study and first reactions

Briefing 25-10-2021

On 29 April 2021, the European Commission presented a study on the status of new genomic techniques (NGTs) under EU law. The Council had asked for this study in the context of a 2018 European Court of Justice judgment and the practical questions raised by it. The Commission study examines the implementation of EU legislation on NGTs, based on consultations with the Member States and stakeholders. It provides information on the status and use of NGTs in plants, animals and micro-organisms for agri-food and for industrial and pharmaceutical applications. The study defines NGTs as ‘techniques capable of changing the genetic material of an organism and that have emerged or have been developed since 2001’, that is, after the existing EU legislation on genetically modified organisms was adopted. The main conclusions of the study point to ‘limitations as to the capacity of the legislation to keep pace with scientific developments’, stating that this causes implementation challenges and legal uncertainties. According to the study, there are strong indications that the legislation is not fit for purpose for some NGTs and their products, and that it needs to be adapted to scientific and technological progress. According to the Commission, the study confirms that NGT products have the potential to contribute to sustainable agri-food systems in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal and the ‘farm to fork’ strategy. Stakeholders have mixed reactions to the study: while some industry associations and researchers welcome its content and conclusions, others appear more cautious, and some environmental NGOs strongly oppose it. In the European Parliament, the Environment and Agriculture Committees (ENVI/AGRI) have organised public hearings, and the initial views of the Parliament are taking shape in the context of the ‘farm to fork’ strategy.