The letter we sent the Belgian Food Safety Agency

The letter we sent the Belgian Food Safety Agency

On March 5th, we held our Give Crispr a chance event. The Belgian Food Safety Agency confiscated our product and told us they would take action.

Ultimately, we were fined 500€ and threatened with criminal prosecution shall we refuse to pay.

In response, exactly one year after the European Court of Justice’s ruling, our Coordinators Marco Cappato and Marco Perduca wrote a letter outlining the reasons behind our action and why we believe the fine is unjustified.

Below you can read the English translation of the letter:

Sir,

We confirm reception of your fine.

We challenge this fine, and we believe to have committed no crime.

Indeed, the Federal Agency for the Security of the Food Chain’s action was based on the fact that on the occasion of the « Give Crispr a Chance » event rice modified with the Crispr technique, which has a doubtful legal status in Belgium, was consumed.

However, by admission of your agents, no technical analysis of the product has been made. How can we then know that the AFSCA’s action had a legitimate basis, as the action was launched following an act of denunciation?

To better put in context what we did on the 5th of March, we deem it useful to remind the reasons that brought us to organise it. The goal was to raise awareness on the ruling by the European Court of Justice of July 25th, 2018 on mutagenesis techniques that did not take into account the most recent scientific discoveries. On that occasion, the Court established that:

  1. Article 2(2) of Directive 2001/18/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 March 2001 on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms and repealing Council Directive 90/220/EEC must be interpreted as meaning that organisms obtained by means of techniques/methods of mutagenesis constitute genetically modified organisms within the meaning of that provision.

Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/18, read in conjunction with point 1 of Annex I B to that directive and in the light of recital 17 thereof, must be interpreted as meaning that only organisms obtained by means of techniques/methods of mutagenesis which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record are excluded from the scope of that directive.

  1. Article 4(4) of Council Directive 2002/53/EC of 13 June 2002 on the common catalogue of varieties of agricultural plant species, as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003, must be interpreted as meaning that genetically modified varieties obtained by means of techniques/methods of mutagenesis which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record are exempt from the obligations laid down in that provision.
  1. Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/18, read in conjunction with point 1 of Annex I B to that directive, in so far as it excludes from the scope of that directive organisms obtained by means of techniques/methods of mutagenesis which have conventionally been used in a number of applications and have a long safety record, must be interpreted as meaning that it does not have the effect of denying Member States the option of subjecting such organisms, in compliance with EU law, in particular with the rules on the free movement of goods set out in Articles 34 to 36 TFEU, to the obligations laid down in that directive or to other obligations.

The Court’s decision heavily disadvantages public research centres that see plants with mutations similar to those happening spontaneously in nature labelled as GMOs, which damages a European agriculture that could excel in the production of sustainable products – and which forces the importation of GMO products such as soya and corn, for the final production of a high number of typical European products.

It is in this context that we have organised our demonstration. We believe that applying a 2001 law in 2018 to techniques invented in 2012 is unsuitable and goes against the latest scientific discoveries. Our action had the objective of inviting competent authorities, through the organisation of the snack in front of the European Parliament, to a revision of these laws.

Crispr is a technique that in its agricultural applications permits to produce more by using less water, less land and less chemical products. In the context of the environmental crisis we are living, and keeping in mind the overpopulation that afflicts our planet, the risk for millions of people of not having access to the food they need is real. At the same time, Crispr can be used to improve the health of plants, a theme which will be at the centre of a world campaign launched by the United Nations for the year 2020.

In light of current legislation, even research of products derived from the Crispr technique is forbidden. We believe that it is time to go beyond an ideological “no” and to allow science to advance so that every citizen can benefit from it.

In light of what is written above, what we shared with your agents in the April 2nd audition and as you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, analyse what was distributed to participants – all of them selected, informed and made identifiable by a white t-shirt with “give Crispr a chance” written on it – we believe the fine to be unjust and therefore not to be paid.

Kind regards,

Marco Cappato and Marco Perduca