New GMOs: European civil society demands that the law is implemented

1 November 2019 — GMWatch

The European Court of Justice ruled last year that new GMOs are still GMOs: But Finland and the Commission are dragging their feet, writes Eric Meunier of Inf’OGM

In a letter obtained by Inf’OGM, civil society organizations say they are “concerned” that a July 2018 judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is “still not consistently applied in all EU Member States”.[1] This ruling stated that any “new GMO” must be subject to risk assessment, authorisation, labelling and tracing in the European Union, just like transgenic GMOs.

However, Finland’s agenda as President of the European Union does not concern such implementation, but instead involves a possible questioning of European legislation.[2] On 24 October 2019, the country invited Member States to commission a study from the European Commission on the regulatory status of products obtained by new techniques of genetic modification.

Traceability of new GMOs: A political decision?

In their letter to national ministers dealing with GMO issues,[3] the signatory organisations recall that the July 2018 decision is “essential [to] ensure the choice of farmers, food and feed producers, traders, retailers and consumers” who choose GMO-free products. But in order to be able to control all GMOs as required by the legislation, the European Union must ensure their traceability. According to pro-GMO actors, the new GMOs will not be traceable because they will not be distinguishable from what nature can do. Such an incapacity would render the ECJ’s judgment inapplicable.

But civil society organizations remind governments that this traceability can instead be implemented. The first condition is to collect the “prior knowledge on the modified genome sequence, a validated detection method… and certified reference materials”, as European experts themselves stated at the beginning of 2019.[4] The second condition is that if the techniques used for regulatory controls today do not allow for this traceability, new detection protocols can quite easily be developed, based in particular on the “scars or collateral damage”, generally called unintended effects,[5] inherent in new techniques. But this process was rejected by the European Commission in 2017.[6] Finally, the organizations remind governments that traceability can also be done in documentary form through “a system of affidavits of traceability”. In other words, European civil society organisations consider that detecting and tracing GMOs in the European Union is a political decision before it becomes a matter of technical capacity.

Traceability, respect for the environment, farmers’ rights

Regarding the Member States’ discussions, civil society organisations have very specific requests. In their letter, they demand that the European Union “immediately apply GMO regulations to all illegally marketed and cultivated GMOs” and have the United States and Canada certify that their exports of rapeseed and soybeans to the European Union are free from new GMOs not authorised in Europe. They also request that the European experts in charge of GMO detection and traceability (ENGL) be given a clear mandate and budget to develop the traceability framework for new GMOs. Finally, documentary traceability must also be organised.

Before the Member States’ meeting on 24 October 2019, civil society organisations feared that the Finnish proposal would serve as an “excuse to delay implementation” of the ECJ judgment of 25 July 2018. Especially since for these organizations, the study proposed by Finland could overlook two fundamental points: the rights of farmers “to save and reproduce seeds and raise animals, taking into account patents and licensing agreements relating to these technologies”; and the “ability to effectively monitor potential adverse effects” of these new GMOs. It remains to be seen whether these organisations have been heard, as the Member States’ discussion has been postponed until 8 November.


[1] Letter of 18 October 2019 from civil society organisations to European national governments.

[2] Inf’OGM, “Union européenne: le Conseil veut clarifier le statut des nouveaux OGM”, Eric MEUNIER, 20 Sept 2019

[3] For France, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Economy and Finance, the Minister of Ecological and Solidarity Transition, the Minister of Agriculture and Food and the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.

[4] Inf’OGM, “Les experts européens l’affirment: les nouveaux OGM sont traçables “, Eric MEUNIER, 23 Apr 2019

[5] Inf’OGM, “Modifications génétiques: à chaque étape, des effets non-intentionnels”, Eric MEUNIER, Lily Vergier, 13 novembre 2017

[6] Inf’OGM, “UE : aucun programme pour détecter les nouveaux OGM”, Eric MEUNIER, 29 Sept 2017

This is an English translation of a French language article published by Inf’OGM:

Translation by Deepl/GMWatch

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