The future of using biotechnology tools to develop agriculture has never been darker in the European Union (EU).
On 25 July 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a ruling that all cultivated crop varieties resulting from genetic modification techniques subsequent to 2001 are GMOs and must be subject to the regulations governing the cultivation, import and use of these products in the European Union, i.e. the provisions of Directive 2001/18/EC and subsequent associated texts. Following this, in France, on 7 February 2020 the Council of State has just issued the transposition into French law of this legal decision.
It appears from this that new plant varieties resulting from proven techniques such as mutagenesis but which have benefited from recent technological improvements in new genome-editing biotechnologies will be subject to GMO regulations.
There is general agreement that this regulation is very cumbersome and very expensive. Only large international consortia such as Corteva, ChemChina, or Bayer can afford the high cost (over $100 million per file). This regulation is not only costly but also disproportionate to the risks involved.
In fact, with the benefit of over twenty years of hindsight we have seen that biotechnologies and GMOs have proved to be very useful tools for improving not only human and animal health but also plant and environmental health (e.g. adaptation to climate change) as highlighted in recent publications by the Foundation for Policy Innovation. With the new provisions laid down by the Council of State, even plants resulting from spontaneous mutations observed in the field, and which are then handled by plant breeders to obtain distinct, homogeneous and stable lines in order to meet the criteria for inclusion in the Official Catalogue of Cultivated Species and Varieties, will be affected!
In the face of this restrictive regulatory reinforcement, there are calls to overhaul the European Union’s regulations on GMOs.
The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission (the Scientific Advice Mechanism) have stressed in a public statement that Directive 2001/18/EC has become inadequate due to advances in scientific knowledge and recent technical progress. This senior body ruled that it is the characteristics of the final product that should be assessed, not the method of production. It stresses the need to take account ” the creation of a favourable regulatory environment for innovation so that society can benefit from new science and technology”, and calls for societal dialogue between all stakeholders and the general public.
And it is indeed the general public these days who are charged with the issue thanks to the action of a group of European students of eight different nationalities from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Determined to “foster responsible agricultural innovation in the EU”, the group launched a European Citizens’ Initiative entitled “Grow scientific progress: crops matter!”  Approved by the European Commission (Decision 2019/1184), this initiative is hosted on the Commission’s website. Its aim is to collect one million signatures by the closing date of 27 July 2020 to call for a review of Directive 2001/18 and an amendment of existing legislation to focus “to focus on the crop rather than the technique. In this way safety is ensured while the valuable benefits of new techniques are not lost to illogical regulatory hurdles.”
We must help these young people who are taking their future into their own hands so that our European future will remain a progressive one. European citizens, it is crucial that the European Commission hears us!
 Catherine Regnault-Roger. Des outils d’édition du génome au service de la Santé humaine et animale [Gene editing tools in the service of human and animal health] January 2020, 56 pages; and Des plantes biotech au service de la santé du végétal et de l’environnement [Biotech plants in the service of plant health and the environment], January 2020, 56 pages, Fondation pour l’innovation politique (http://www.fondapol.org/)
 A scientific perspective on the regulatory status of products derived from gene editing and the implications for the GMO Directive – Statement of the Group of Senior Scientific Advisors – EU Publications Office, Published: 2019-06-04, https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/a9100d3c-4930-11e9-a8ed-01aa75ed71a1/language-en/format-PDF/source-94584603
 Grow scientific progress: crops matter! https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2019/000012_en