Bayer and BASF move plant gene editing to US after EU ruling

Bayer and BASF are ruling pursuing genetic plant breeding in Europe after the EU ruled the technology should be regulated like genetically modified organisms (GMO). The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said last week that gene-editing methods such as CRISPR/Cas9 fall under rules that now apply to genetic modification via strands of DNA from a different species.

“As we run a global platform, it would mean that basically these applications of these instruments would not be used in Europe and Germany. So overall, that does not impact us as a company too much, but as a European, I’m worried about what that means to the Europeans,” Chief Executive Martin Brudermueller is reported to have said, following the ruling.

Few, if any, commercial ventures based on gene editing have been launched so far in Europe, and only large players were seen as likely to pioneer product development. The ECJ ruling will translate into near-prohibitive overhead costs of market access, meaning that smaller players can be ruled out from taking the challenge.

The verdict was widely condemned by biotech and chemical industry associations as well as academic scientists, but drew praise from environmental and consumer rights groups.

BASF already moved its plant research operations from Germany  to the United States in 2012, in frustration over regulatory proceedings in Europe. But this year it agreed to buy most of Bayer’s seed business – including some German-based genetic research operations.

Proponents of gene editing argue the method can be seen as equivalent to conventional breeding, but many times faster.