New genomic techniques: EU consultation results

On April 29, the European Commission launched an online public consultation on whether the EU regulatory framework should be reformed to keep pace with scientific and technological advances. The results, released on the consultation website, show a clear majority in favor of rethinking the current rules, which were approved when New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) such as targeted mutagenesis (i.e., CRISPR) did not yet exist. Here are the highlights:

The consultation analysed 2,196 individual contributions received from 23 EU member states and 28 non-EU countries. Overall, four out of five (1732; 79%) participants in the consultation found that the existing provisions of the GMO legislation are not adequate for plants obtained by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis.

61% (1331) of total respondents supported a risk assessment approach different from the current one in the GMO framework: 34% (738) of total respondents believed that risk assessment should have requirements adapted to the characteristics and risk profile of a plant and 27% (593) believed that risk assessment is not needed when these plants could have been produced through conventional plant breeding or classical mutagenesis.

51% (1111) of total consultation respondents found that specific regulatory provisions for sustainability should be included in this initiative; views were approximately equally split between including sustainability provisions in the form of regulatory incentives or in the form of requirements.

Concerning the potential contribution of specific traits to sustainability, the majority or great majority of respondents strongly agreed/tended to agree that better use of natural resources, tolerance/resistance to biotic stresses (e.g., to plant diseases) or abiotic stresses (e.g., climate change or environmental conditions in general), yield or other agronomic characteristics, better composition (e.g., better content of nutrients or lower content of toxic substances/allergens), better storage performance, and production of substances of interest for the food and non-food industry, are traits that could contribute to sustainability.

Replies were split on how to best ensure effective traceability for plants produced by targeted mutagenesis and cisgenesis; the most selected responses were ‘Public databases and registries’ (32%), ‘documentation transmitted through the chain of operators’ (27%), and ‘digital solutions, e.g., block chain’ (19%). In most cases, the distribution of replies among the different stakeholders and economic sectors followed the above pattern.

Views also varied on how transparency for consumers and operators can be ensured for plants produced by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis. The most selected responses were that transparency can be achieved via physical label on the final product (29%); transparency is not necessary for those plants that could also have been produced through conventional breeding or classical mutagenesis (22%); transparency can be achieved via information available elsewhere e.g., a website or public database/register (20%); and that transparency can be achieved via a digital label accessible through the final product, e.g. link to a website or a QR code (18%).

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