France must put gene-edited crops under GMO rules this year: court


PARIS (Reuters) – The French government must in the coming months change its policy on crops developed using a breeding technique called mutagenesis to adhere to stricter rules for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a court ruled on Friday.

The decision by France’s top administrative court follows a ruling by the Europe Union’s highest court in 2018 that mutagenesis, often called gene-editing, should be subject to GMO regulations.

The court cases reflect intense debate in Europe between environmental activists who say new genetic breeding techniques pose the same risks as long-contested GMO crops, and farming and biotech industries who argue that such methods are similar to natural processes and vital for research.

France is the EU’s largest agricultural producer and bans cultivation of GMO crops.

In its decision published on Friday, the Conseil d’Etat ordered the government to revise within six months regulations on GMO varieties to include mutagenesis-based crops.

Such crops that are already approved for growing should be listed within nine months, with the possibility that some varieties be banned from cultivation, the court ruled.

The authorities should also evaluate potential risks related to herbicide-resistant crops developed using mutagenesis, it said.

The government will study how to implement the court’s ruling in line with EU legislation, the French agriculture and environment ministries said in a joint statement.

Such herbicide-tolerant varieties represented about 20-30% of the area planted with sunflower seed and 2-5% of the rapeseed area, the statement said.

The European Commission is looking at options to update GMO legislation to take account of new breeding techniques and in the light of the 2018 ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice.

Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Susan Fenton

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