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On the Legal Categorisation of New Plant Breeding Technologies: Insights from Communication Science and Ways Forward

  • P. Marijn POORTVLIET, Kai P. PURNHAGEN, Reginald BOERSMA and Bart GREMMEN

Abstract

In July 2018 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that organisms obtained from most New Plant Breeding Technologies (NPBT) fulfil the requirements of the GMO definition of Directive 2001/18. Practically, organisms created with NPBT have since been legally treated as GMOs. While we do not seek to contest the judgment in itself, in the present contribution we draw attention to the effects of such a categorisation from the perspective of communication science. Extrapolating from communication research conducted in adjacent technology domains, we will argue that by putting organisms obtained from NPBT semantically in the same basket as GMOs may carry a serious risk – transferring analogous communication problems that GMOs encountered in the past, to organisms obtained from NPBT, while they may not address similar risks. Possible consequences such as these can hardly be considered at the stage of legal interpretation (such as with the CJEU). Rather, as discussion now unfolds whether and how to change the legal definition, insights from communication science and risk perception research on the effect of such a definition should be taken into account.

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Footnotes

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Footnotes

References

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1 JRC/IPTS/IHCS, New Plant Breeding Techniques. State-of-the-art and Prospects for Commercial Development (Luxembourg: Publications office of the European Union 2011).

2 Sprink, T et al, “Regulatory hurdles for genome editing: process- vs. product-based approaches in different regulatory contexts” (2016) 35(7) Plant Cell Reports 1493 .

3 New Techniques Working Group, “Final Report” (2008), available at <www.seemneliit.ee/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/esa_12.0029.pdf> accessed 14 February 2019.

4 Eg Then, C and Bauer-Panskus, A, Playing Russian Roulette with Biodiversity (Munich: Testbiotech 2017) .

5 Case C-528/16, Confédération paysanne et al v Premier ministre Ministre de l’agriculture, de l’agroalimentaire et de la forêt [2018] ECLI:EU:C:2018:583.

6 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 – Commission Declaration, OJ L 106, 17.4.2001, 1–39.

7 Purnhagen, KP et al, “EU court casts new plant breeding techniques into regulatory limbo” (2018) 36 Nature Biotechnology 799 .

8 D Eriksson et al, “A comparison of the EU regulatory approach to directed mutagenesis with that of other jurisdictions, consequences for international trade and potential steps forward” (2018) New Phytologist, 13 December <doi: 10.1111/nph.15627>.

9 For a summary of the pre-judgment discussion see Albújar, GF and van der Meulen, B, “The EU’s GMO Concept: Analysis of the GMO Definition in EU Law in the Light of New Breeding Techniques (NBTs)” (2018) 13 European Food and Feed Law Review 14 .

10 Sprink et al, supra, note 2.

11 Hartung, F and Schiemann, J, “Precise plant breeding using new genome editing techniques: opportunities, safety and regulation in the EU” (2014) 78 The Plant Journal 742 .

12 TM Spranger, “Legal analysis of the applicability of Directive 2001/18/EC on genome editing technologies” (2015), available at <bfn.de/fileadmin/BfN/agrogentechnik/Dokumente/Legal_analysis_of_genome_editing_technologies.pdf>, accessed 14 February 2019.

13 Opinion of AG Bobek delivered on 18 January 2018(1), Case C-528/16, Confédération paysanne et al v. Premier ministre Ministre de l’agriculture, de l’agroalimentaire et de la forêt, ECLI:EU:C:2018:20, para 60.

14 ibid, para 62.

15 Case C-528/16, supra, note 5, paras 27–38.

16 See, on the importance of smart communication about NPBT, Pei, L and Schmidt, M, “Novel biotechnological approaches to produce biological compounds: challenges and opportunities for science communication” (2019) 56 Current Opinion in Biotechnology 43 .

17 Boersma, R and Gremmen, B, “Genomics? That is probably GM! The impact a name can have on the interpretation of a technology” (2018) 14(1) Life Sciences, Society and Policy 8 .

18 Bucchi, M, “Of deficits, deviations and dialogues: theories of public communication of science” in M Bucchi and B Trench (eds), Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (New York: Routledge 2008) 5776 .

19 Boersma, R et al, “The elephant in the room: how a technology’s name affects its interpretation” (2019) 28 Public Understanding of Science 218 .

20 Scheufele, DA and Lewenstein, BV, “The public and nanotechnology: How citizens make sense of emerging technologies” (2005) 7(6) Journal of Nanoparticle Research 659 .

21 Bredahl, L et al, “Consumer attitudes and decision-making with regard to genetically engineered food products: a review of the literature and a presentation of models for future research” (1998) 21(3) Journal of Consumer Policy 251 .

22 Grunert, KG et al, “Four questions on European consumers’ attitudes toward the use of genetic modification in food production” (2003) 4(4) Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 435 .

23 Bostrom, A, and Löfstedt, RE, “Nanotechnology risk communication past and prologue” (2010) 30 Risk Analysis 1645 ; Eurobarometer, Special Eurobarometer 341, Wave 73.1: Biotechnology, conducted by TNS Opinion & Social on request of European Commission (2010).

24 Eg Chen, S and Chaiken, S, “The heuristic-systematic model in its broader context” (1999) 15 Dual-process theories in Social Psychology 73 ; RE Petty and JT Cacioppo, “The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion” in Communication and Persuasion (New York: Springer 1986) 1.

25 Anderson, AA et al, “The ‘nasty effect’: online incivility and risk perceptions of emerging technologies” (2014) 19 Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 373 ; Ho, SS et al, “Factors influencing public risk – benefit considerations of nanotechnology: assessing the effects of mass media, interpersonal communication, and elaborative processing” (2013) 22 Public Understanding of Science 606 ; DM Kahan et al, “Biased assimilation, polarization, and cultural credibility: an experimental study of nanotechnology risk perceptions” (2008) The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School; Mulder, BC et al, “Explaining end-users’ intentions to use innovative medical and food biotechnology products” (2014) 9 Biotechnology Journal 997 .

26 Scheufele and Lewenstein, supra, note 20.

27 Rosch, E, “Principles of categorization” in E Rosch and BB Loyd (eds), Cognition and Categorization (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum 1978) 27 .

28 B Loken et al, “Categorization theory and research in consumer psychology: category representation and category-based inference” in CP Haugtvedt et al (eds), Handbook of Consumer Psychology (New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 2008) 133.

29 Ie NPBTs; Muthukrishnan, AV and Weitz, BA, “Role of product knowledge in evaluation of brand extension” in RH Holman and MR Solomon (eds), Advances in Consumer Research (Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research 1991) 18 407413 .

30 F Van Dam and H De Vriend, “Publieksonderzoek Genomics 2002” Den Haag, the Netherlands: Stichting Consument en Biotechnologie (2002); R Hall “CBSG2012 A public-private partnership in the plant sciences” in H Zwart (ed), CSG Researchers Days (2010), Symposium organized at the meeting of CSG Centre for Society and the Life Sciences, Berg en Dal, Netherlands.

31 Löfstedt, RE, “Risk communication guidelines for Europe: a modest proposition” (2010) 13(1) Journal of Risk Research 87 .

32 Boersma et al, supra, note 19; M Tester, and P Langridge P “Breeding technologies to increase crop production in a changing world” (2010) 327(5967) Science 818–822.

33 Boersma et al, supra, note 19.

34 See Purnhagen, K et al, “The European Union Court’s Advocate General’s Opinion and new plant breeding techniques” (2018) 36 Nature Biotechnology 573 .

35 Hartung and Schiemann, supra, note 11.

36 Opinion of AG Bobek, supra, note 13.

37 Case C-528/16, supra, note 5, paras 27–38.

38 Poortvliet, PM et al, “Performativity in action: how risk communication interacts in risk regulation” (2016) 7 European Journal of Risk Regulation 213 .

39 Opinion of AG Bobek, supra, note 13.

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