Bayer CropScience Davis California

Scientists from Europe’s top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have signed a paper calling on the EU to revise their GMO policy in the wake of the recent gene-editing regulations from the European Court of Justice.

The position paper argues the ECJ’s decision, which effectively prohibits gene-editing due to the costly approval procedure, is bad for “agriculture, society and the economy”.

The paper was signed by 75 professors and academics from across the EU, including Professor David Baulcombe, from Cambridge University, and Professor Jane Langdale at Oxford.

UK-based plant science and research institute John Innes Centre also put their name behind the paper, which states: “We find the ruling irresponsible in the face of the world’s current far-reaching agricultural challenges.”

The ECJ ruling, on 25 July shocked the scientific community, as gene-editing had been hailed as a safer and more simple way to achieve beneficial genetic alterations in organisms.

The technology divided the agricultural community, with many excited by its potential to develop new varieties of fruit and veg, while other groups such as the Soil Association claiming it was neither safe nor faster than traditional mutation techniques.

The paper concludes: “Subjecting crops obtained through modern genome editing to GMO regulations will deny European consumers, producers, researchers and entrepreneurs important opportunities in sustainable agriculture.

“Therefore, an urgent review and amendment of the European legislation on new breeding technologies is needed. In the short term, the legislation should be altered such that crops with small DNA adaptations obtained through genome editing are not subject to the provisions of the GMO Directive but instead fall under the regulatory regime that applies to classically bred varieties. In the long term, new regulations for GMOs should be developed that are adapted to modern breeding techniques. This new directive should provide more legal certainty and evaluate new crop varieties on a scientific basis.

Dirk Inzé, scientific director at VIB-University of Gent Centre for Plant Systems Biology and one of the initiators of the position paper said: “The support for this initiative from plant scientists all over Europe has been overwhelming.

“It clearly illustrates the current dichotomy in Europe: as European leaders in the field of plant sciences we are committed to bringing innovative and sustainable solutions to agriculture, but we are hindered by an outdated regulatory framework that is not in line with recent scientific evidence.”