Genome Editing for Crop Improvement

Symposium organised by ALLEA and the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (KVAB)

Genome editing, in particular the use of CRISPR-Cas9 and other site-directed mutagenesis methods, is a new technology that very precisely modifies the genes of organisms. On 25 July 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled that organisms obtained by genome editing techniques are subject to the strict conditions of the EU GMO directives. This decision has given rise to concerns and criticisms from scientists who call for an amendment of the relevant legislation. The types of modifications generated by genome editing are indeed much more precise than those derived from chemical and radiation mutagenesis, two techniques that are widely used in classical breeding and are exempt under the GMO legislation. Therefore, scientists consider genome edited crops that do not contain foreign DNA to be at least as safe as those derived from classical breeding. Furthermore, the EU legislation, as interpreted by the ECJ, is in sharp contrast to legislation in many countries outside the EU that exempt genome edited crops from their respective GMO legislations.

The ALLEA-KVAB symposium assessed the scientific value of the present research in genome editing of crops and the relevance of the developments in this field for society. It provided an overview of the scientific evidence with respect to the safety of genome edited crops and of their potential for solving current and future problems in agriculture. It further examined the impact of genome editing of crops on society, on agricultural structures and on international trade. The symposium addressed the intellectual property law aspects of the technology and initiate a discussion on relevant policy options for an amendment of the present EU legislation. In this way, the participants received relevant scientific evidence and science-based policy considerations for the future regulation of genome editing of plants.

A symposium report is currently under preparation.

Topics addressed during the symposium:

  • The science behind genome editing
  • What can genome editing deliver for agriculture?
  • Societal considerations related to agricultural applications of genome editing
  • Traceability and impact on international trade
  • Regulation and legislation


7 November

12:30Registration and sandwich lunch
13:45Welcome and Introduction:
Professor Karel Velle, President KVAB
Professor Hubert Bocken, Vice-President ALLEA
Professor Pere Puigdomènech, ALLEA/CRAG
14:00Keynote Speech: Genome editing in different domains: same or different issues? How science and ethics interplay
Professor Anne Cambon-Thomsen, CNRS
14:30Session 1: Genome Editing in Science and Agriculture

The science behind genome editing
Professor Sjef Smeekens, Utrecht University

What can genome editing deliver for agriculture?
Professor Stefan Jansson, Umea Plant Science Centre

16:00Coffee break
16:30Session 2: Genome Editing in International Trade and Society?

Traceability issues
Dr Guy Van den Eede, European Commission Joint Research Center

Societal considerations related to agricultural applications of genome editing
Professor Michele Morgante, Laboratory of Plant Genomics, University of Udine

18:00Closing Address
Hilde Crevits, Viceminister-president of the Flemish Government and Flemish minister for Economy, Innovation, Labor, Social Economy and Agriculture
18:15Concluding Remarks

8 November

8:50Re-Opening and welcome
9:15Session 3: Legal and Regulatory Aspects

Intellectual Property law and genome editing of crops
Professor Sven Bostyn, Centre for Advanced Studies in Biomedical Innovation Law, University of Copenhagen

Risk assessment and regulation of genome edited crops
Dr Fabien Nogué, INRA Center of Versailles

Breaking the Impasse: a Governance Framework for Gene Editing with Plants
Dr Michelle Habets, Rathenau Instituut

10:50Coffee break
11:15Session 4: Round Table Policy Options for the Legislator
René Custers, VIB
Georges Van Keerberghen, Boerenbond
Wouter Vanhove, Groen
Alain Deshayes, AFBV
David Hamburger, University of Passau
12:30Summary and Conclusion
12:45Closing Reception


7-8 November 2019

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Academy Palace
Rue Ducale 1
1000 Bruxelles, Belgium



Robert Vogt
ALLEA Executive Officer