Genetic or DNA editing techniques make it possible to directly modify the genetic material of cells. The DNA chain is cut at specific points in order to change, remove or insert new nucleic acid sequences.
These techniques, when applied to plant or animal organisms, may have unforeseen effects whose consequences may be beyond any control. This means that all such techniques must be accompanied by impact assessments in order to protect public health. Furthermore, the possible presence of substances resulting from these techniques in the food chain must also be governed by rigorous transparency and information rules.
It might be pointed out that in October 2015 the Unesco International Bioethics Committee called for a moratorium on DNA editing techniques in human reproductive cells in order to prevent ethically unacceptable changes to individuals’ hereditary characteristics.
What safety guarantees can the Commission offer consumers with regard to the presence of these substances in the food chain?
Will it include genetic editing techniques in the regulation on genetically modified organisms?
1. Directive 2001/18/EC(1) provides the definition of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and sets the conditions for exemptions to the application of the directive. Exemptions are granted to organisms obtained through certain techniques of genetic modification which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record.
Organisms falling under the scope of Directive 2001/18/EC are subjected to the risk assessment and the prior authorisation procedures established by the EU GMO legislation.
Whether organisms produced through DNA editing techniques are defined as GMO under Directive 2001/18/EC is, however, subject to debate.
2. The Commission is looking into the matter.
(1) Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12.3.2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms; OJ L 106, 17.4.2001, p. 1.