Laws and rules for biotechnology

There are laws and rules governing the use of biotechnology to ensure that it does not pose a risk to humans, animals or the environment. The government checks whether researchers are complying with the law when they use biotechnology.

Rules ensure safety

The rules governing biotechnology (genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) ensure that humans, animals and the environment are protected. 

  • These rules focus on three types of use:
    • Research that may be conducted only in contained environments, such as greenhouses or laboratories.
    • Research and trials that are inherently safe enough to take place outside these contained environments, such as field trials of crops or clinical research on medicines.
    • Applications where there is scientific evidence that it is safe to authorise a product for use on the common European market.
  • Consumers are able to choose whether they want to buy genetically modified products. Manufacturers are required to state on the label if at least 0.9% of a product is genetically modified.

EU legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

The European Union (EU) lays down requirements in regulations and directives for all activities involving GMOs. The regulations apply directly in all EU countries. The directives must first be incorporated into national legislation.

In the Netherlands, most national and EU rules for GMOs are set down in the:

Protocol for GMO import and export

International rules on the import and export of GMOs are set out in the Biosafety Protocol. This United Nations treaty is also known as the Cartagena Protocol. These rules have applied since 2003.

Rules on labelling food and other products containing GMOs

The government imposes rules on labelling food and other products containing GMOs. A product must be labelled as genetically modified (GM) if more than 0.9% of one of its ingredients originates from GM material.

Milk, meat and eggs from animals that have eaten GM feed are not GM. Manufacturers therefore do not have to include any special indications on the label.

Cotton derived from GM cotton plants no longer contains viable seed, so this does not need to be indicated on the label either.

If products do not contain GMOs, food producers may state that they are ‘prepared without gene technology’. The products must, however, comply with the rules of the Novel Foods (Commodities Act) Decree (Warenwetbesluit nieuwe voedingsmiddelen).

Some GMO rules do not apply to clinical coronavirus research

Some of the rules for GMOs are not applicable to clinical research on coronavirus (COVID-19) during the pandemic. This decision was made to enable clinical research on vaccines and medicines to go ahead in the European Union. Such research is needed to treat coronavirus patients and also to ensure that people do not contract the disease.

An EU Regulation establishes the exception made for GMOs in COVID-19 research. This Regulation came into force on 18 July 2020.