A European Union court just issued a new decision about GMOs. Disappointingly, this decision is likely to further confuse rather than clarify this complex and contentious issue. The court announced that plants whose genomes have been modified with CRISPR technology, a very precise form of genome editing, are subject to the EU’s very strict restrictions on genetically modified crops.
More specifically, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) decided that:
“Organisms obtained by mutagenesis are GMOs and are, in principle, subject to the obligations laid down by the GMO Directive.”
If we take this literally, then here’s a list of all the foods that have never been subjected to mutagenesis, and are therefore not GMO:
- Wild boar
- Wild blueberries
That’s it. (OK, maybe there are a few others.)
We have been modifying the genes of the foods we eat for millenia. Every loaf of organic, non-GMO bread is made from wheat that humans have modified since ancient times. Every glass of milk from your grass-fed, bovine-growth-hormone-free cow comes from a cow that humans have bred for centuries. All cows are genetically modified. Those delicious croissants you bought at the organic bakery? Sorry, those are GMOs, no matter how organic you think they are.
And corn? Have you seen what ancient corn, called teosinte, looks like? I encourage you to Google it (or see the image below). Modern corn is the result of many generations of human-driven genetic modifications.
Teosinte, or ancient corn, on the left. Modern corn on the right, and hybrid in the center. Source:… [+] Virginia Gewin: Genetically Modified Corn— Environmental Benefits and Risks. PLoS Biol 1/1/2003: e8. https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0000008. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.
Virginia Gewin: Genetically Modified Corn— Environmental Benefits and Risks. PLoS Biol 1/1/2003: e8. https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0000008
To be fair, the EU court recognized that many of our foods have been genetically modified for a long time, and that it might be impractical to remove all of them from our food supply. So they carved out an except