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Israeli law permits the development and growth of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for research purposes in accordance with requirements established by subsidiary legislation.  Although GMO growth is not permitted for commercial purposes, GMO products may be imported, sold, and used in the production of food and pharmaceuticals in Israel.  While Israeli scientists usually support the development of GMOs, environmental activists have expressed concerns regarding what they see as potential harm resulting from their use.  Israel’s religious kashrut authority has determined that the use of GMO ingredients in food does not affect its kosher status because GMOs are only used in “microscopic” proportions.  This determination has been contested by some Jewish groups in Israel and the United States.  All new food, including food that was genetically engineered, goes through a risk assessment process before being approved.  Such assessment includes an evaluation of aspects related to its safety, nutrition, and consumption.  To date, legislation specifically regulating the labeling of GMO components in food does not appear to have been passed.

I.  Introduction

Israel is considered “an international center for studying genetically modified organisms.”[1]  Research involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) concentrates on the development of seeds and is conducted in Israeli universities, in government research institutions,[2] and by the private sector.[3]  Funding for GMO research and testing in Israel derives from Israeli and foreign sources, including the United States.[4]

Israeli subsidiary legislation defines a GMO as “[a]n organism, including a microorganism, virus, viroid, and any single-celled or multi-celled entity, that has undergone a modification by genetic engineering and is involved with plants in any way during its life cycle.”[5]  A commentator has noted that while GMO research in Israel has focused on “developing and improving plants’ resistance to pests, diseases, and herbicides[,] . . . the research can only reach the ‘proof of concept’ stage, because of regulations.”[6]

Accordingly, although the growth of GMOs is generally permitted in Israel for research purposes, subject to conditions enumerated by law, it is not authorized for commercial purposes.[7]  Ingredients derived from GMOs may, however, be imported, sold, and used in the production of food in Israel.[8]  GMO products are also “widely used in the pharmaceutical industry”[9] in Israel.  There are currently no requirements for the labeling of GMOs in Israel.[10]

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II.  Public and Scholarly Opinion

A. Government Policies

In a December 2011 hearing of the 18th Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) Science and Technology Committee, experts testified in favor of research and development (R&D) involving genetic engineering in agriculture.  Projecting a rise in global population and food shortages, Professor Yoram Kapolnik, head of agricultural research at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), testified on the need for Israel to prepare for 2050, by which time he expects central food components to be depleted.[11]  Professor Amnon Lars, a researcher at the Agriculture Research Organization’s Volcani Center,[12] also testified that genetic engineering proposed alternatives to the use of pesticides by developing vegetables that would be resistant to various viruses.[13]

The hearing concluded with a call by Ronit Tirosh, the Committee’s Chair, to remove “the stigmas regarding the low level of safety [associated with] genetically engineered products; because it was proved that they are unjustified.”[14]  Calling on MARD to allocate funding “for marketing and for educating the public” on this issue, Ms. Tirosh stressed the need for closer cooperation between the Ministry of Health and MARD’s research institutions.  Such cooperation is necessary, she stated, “so that regulations and directives that are issued by the Ministry of Health will be considered in connection with every research project that is conducted, when the goal at the completion of the research is to open the products for wide distribution and trade.”[15]  Ms. Tirosh called for the introduction of a bill that would regulate the labeling of genetically engineered products and increase the number of inspectors to ensure compliance with quality standards.[16]  

A search for legislative developments since the December 2011 hearing has disclosed an amendment delaying the enforcement date of the Public Health (Food) (Nutritional Labeling) (Amendment) 5771-2011 Regulations to January 31, 2014.  The text of these regulations, however, does not include reference to the labeling of GMO products.[17]  The absence of labeling requirements for GMO food components was criticized at a hearing conducted by the Knesset Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health on July 3, 2013.[18]

B.  Public Environmental Concerns

Environmental activists have expressed concerns regarding the quality and the potential harm that they believe would result from the use of GMOs.  Activists argue that “GM seeds produce sterile crops, so cross-pollination with wild plants could bring rapid extinction to those wild varieties. . . . GM plants are very weak and ‘spoiled’.”[19]  They have also expressed concerns about the long-term ecological effects of GMOs breeding with other plants.[20]

Israeli scientists, however, have generally support the development of GMOs.[21]  According to Professor Gad Galili of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, the development of genetically engineered crops can address “the global shortage of staple foods.”  In response to concerns regarding the long-term impact of GMO use he opined that

[a]lthough scientists do not know the long-term effects of genetically modified organisms’ consumption . . . they were safer than conventionally interbred ones because scientists had full control over all the variables in the gene transfer.  As for the risk of contamination . . . [i]f you put a virus into GMO, it will spread.  But we safeguard it, there are expert committees that approve GMO, and one thing is certain: If someone wanted to insert a virus genome, or there was a contamination risk, it would not be approved.[22]

C. Religious Concerns

Concerns have been raised both in Israel and among Jewish communities around the world[23] regarding whether products that include GMO components are Kosher and thus fulfill strict Jewish dietary standards.  The Epoch Times has reported that

[t]he religious kashrut authority [which certifies products as Kosher] in Israel had ruled that genetic engineering “does not affect kosher status” because genetic material is “microscopic.”  But there are Jewish groups that dispute this decision and consider GMOs a violation of the biblical prohibition against “kilayim,” mixed breeding both in crops and in livestock.  Those believing GM products cannot be labeled kosher quote the well-respected 13th century Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (known as “the Ramban”), who said mankind should not disturb the fundamental nature of creation.[24]

In the United States, the Natural Food Certifiers (NFC) Organization, announced that its Apple K Kosher Certification Program would no longer accept applications for products that contain GMOs.[25]

According to a press release issued by the NFC:

While according to the strict letter of Kosher food law a GMO food ingredient is not prohibited, in our view it is not natural.  Additionally, there is a Torah (religious)-based law to ‘guard your health’.  GMOs are the number-one growing concern among health-conscious consumers and for businesses in the natural and organic food market, as well as in the conventional food industry. . . .”[26]

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III.  Structure of Pertinent Legislation

Israeli law currently does not include any primary legislation on GMOs.  Responsibilities for GMO research, development, and use are shared by MARD and the Ministry of Health in accordance with regulations established by these ministries based on their respective authorities.

A.  Regulation of GMO Research

The Seed Regulations (Genetically Modified Plants and Organisms) 5765– 2005[27] were issued in 2005 by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development based on general authorities provided under the Seeds Law, 5716-1956,[28] and the Plant Protection Law, 5716-1956.[29]

MARD oversees all experimentation with transgenic plants and organisms that are involved in the life cycle of plants in accordance with the regulations. In addition, MARD handles the importation and exportation, handling and commercialization of genetically modified propagation material.[30]

MARD’s activities in these areas are managed by the following bodies:

1.  The Plant Protection and Inspection Service (PPIS);

2.  The National Committee for Transgenic Plants (NCTP); and

3.  The Authorized Institutional Representative.[31]

B.  Regulation of GMO Use in Food

According to information posted on the Ministry of Health website,

[l]egislation regulating the rules regarding new food, including genetically engineered food and its labeling, is going through the final legislative steps. Every new food (including food that was genetically engineered) before being approved goes through  risk assessment that includes aspects related to its safety, nutrition and consumption … With the entry into force of the new food regulations a labeling requirement will apply to genetically engineered food components, in addition to the safety assessment that has been done until now.[32]

Legislation specifically regulating labeling of GMO components in food does not appear to have been passed to date.

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IV. Restrictions on Research, Production, and Marketing

A. Rules for Authorizing Research and for Research Laboratories

The Seed Regulations prohibit any experimentation with plants that have undergone a change by means of genetic modification without a permit issued by the Director of the PPIS.[33]  The regulations authorize the Director to grant experiment permits and to stipulate conditions and restrictions for their issue; including conditions for destroying plant material, organisms or regulated articles used during the experiment and requiring that testing be conducted in laboratories that have been approved by the Director.  The Director may refuse to issue a permit for experiments that are to be carried out in a

  • (1)  Containment facility, unless the applicant had proven that the containment facility is appropriate for its function and that all necessary means have been taken to prevent all risk to humans, animals and to plants; and to prevent unacceptable negative impacts on the environment;
  • (2)  Field trial only, after consultation with the National Committee for Transgenic Plants.[34]

The regulations authorize the Director to exempt applicants from needing to obtain an experiment permit if he or she is satisfied that the experiment will be conducted in a laboratory equipped with an autoclave facility and its operator and safety officer have ensured that “all experiment residues are destroyed in an incinerator or sterilized with material that the Director has approved.”[35]

B. Marketing Rules

The sale of transgenic plants requires permission from the Director in consultation with the NCTP and compliance with all the conditions enumerated in the experiment permit.[36]  The sale or export of transgenic propagation material or organism similarly requires a valid registration certificate or an approved label.[37]

The regulations require an applicant who requests authorization to sell transgenic propagation material or transgenic organisms to submit a registration application that includes the following information:

  • (1) A description of the genetic modification and its characteristics, including complete data pertaining to the effects and potential effects on humans, animals, plants and the environment;
  • (2) Scientific publications on the results of experiments with the transgenic propagation material or the transgenic organism and their international use, including approved labels and translations to Hebrew (excluding English);
  • (3) A report of the results of experiments with transgenic propagation material or the transgenic organism under local conditions and the proposed utilization of the material;
  • (4) Examples of proposed labels for transgenic propagation material as regulated for in the Seed Law, with the addition of the words “Genetically Modified Material”;
  • (5) For transgenic organisms – the words “Genetically Modified Material” must appear on the label;
  • (6) Imported transgenic propagation material or imported transgenic organisms – Import permit;
  • (7) Additional information as may be required by the Director, including a testing laboratory approved by him.[38]

The Director is authorized to reject, restrict, or cancel a registration of transgenic propagation material or organisms for sale based on evidence that the plant material or organism may endanger plants, humans, or animals or have unacceptable negative impacts on the environment, or based on noncompliance with labeling requirements that have been authorized by the Director or deviation from the trait description that has been supplied at the time of registration application.[39]

C. Labeling Requirements for Distributed Products

As discussed above, labeling requirements apply to the marketing of transgenic plants, propagation material, and organisms.  Labeling requirements for distribution of processed food products containing GMO components do not apply at this time.

D. Agencies Involved in Implementation

According to the regulations, the role of the NCTP is to advise the Director, in accordance with the instructions prescribed by the regulations, and “to determine if genetically modified plants or organisms or their sale, pose any risk to humans or animals or have unacceptable negative impacts on the environment.”[40]

The thirteen committee members are appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and include the following persons:

  • (1)  Two representatives from the Ministry; one of whom will act as chairman of the committee, and the second as deputy chairman;
  • (2)  One representative from a list submitted by the Minister of the Environment;
  • (3)  One representative from a list submitted by the Minister of Health;
  • (4)  One representative from a list submitted by the Minister for Science, Culture and Sport;
  • (5)  Eight representatives of the public from among the scientific and research community who have backgrounds in life sciences, nature or environmental protection, and from seed producers and variety breeders. [41]

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V. Restrictions on Releasing Organisms into the Environment

As explained above, GMOs may be produced in Israel only for research purposes subject to conditions enumerated by the relevant regulations.  GMO growth is not authorized for commercial purposes.[42]

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VI.  Restrictions on GMOs in Foodstuff

GMO products may be imported, sold, and used in the production of food in Israel,[43] and are not required to be labeled in a way that identifies their GMO components.[44]

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VII.  Liability Regime

Israeli law does not contain a special liability regime in relation to the development, use, or release of GMOs.

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VIII.  Judicial Decisions / Prominent Cases

A search for case law concerning GMO research and use unconnected to patent rights has not identified any relevant court decisions.

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Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2014

 


[1] Marlene-Aviva Grunpeter, GMOs, A Global Debate: Israel a Center for Study, Kosher Concerns,Epoch Times (Aug. 5, 2013), http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/229556-gmos-a-global-debate-israel-a-center-for-study-kosher-concerns/.

[2] See Agricultural Research Organization (ARO), Volcani Center: Plant Pathology and Weed Research, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), http://www.agri.gov.il/en/departments/12.aspx (last visited Sept. 12, 2013).

[3] See, e.g., Hagai Amit, Homegrown Israeli Idea for Conquering the World Food Shortage, Haaretz (Apr. 12, 2012), http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/homegrown-israeli-idea-for-conquering-the-world-food-shortage-1.423959.

[4] Id. (stating, for example, that the US government was helping to fund pre-field trial tests conducted by an Israeli startup company).  For general information on life sciences research in Israel, see Tova Cohen & Steven Scheer, Analysis: After Tech Success, Israel Seeks Life Sciences Growth, Reuters (June 6, 2013), http://www.reuters.com/ article/2013/06/06/us-israel-biomed-idUSBRE9550IU20130606.

[5] Seed Regulations (Genetically Modified Plants and Organisms) 5765-2005, Kovetz Hatakanot [KT] [Subsidiary Legislation] No. 6391 p. 782.  An unofficial translation of the regulations is available on the MARD website at http://www.ppiseng.moag.gov.il/PPISENG/GeneticallyModifiedPlants/LicensingandanalysisofGMplants/

[6] Grunpeter, supra note1.

[7] Id.

[8] Genetically Engineered Food, Ministry of Health, http://www.health.gov.il/unitsoffice/hd/ph/fcs/novelfood/ pages/engfood.aspx (last visited Sept. 12, 2012).

[9] Grunpeter, supra note1.  

[10] Id.

[11] The Knesset Committee for Science and Technology, The 18th Knesset, Use of Genetic Engineering in Agricultural Research in Israel (Hearing in the Committee, Protocol No. 112: Summary of the Committee’s Activity, Part B, p. 50 (Aug. 2011–Nov. 2012), http://www.knesset.gov.il/committees/heb/docs/ mada_18b.pdf (in Hebrew).

[12] For information on the Center’s research activities, see Agriculture Research Organization (ARO) Volcani Center, MARD, http://www.agri.gov.il/units/institutes/default.aspx (last visited Sept. 16, 2013).

[13] The Knesset Committee for Science and Technology, supra note 11, at 51.

[14] Id. (translated by author, R.L.).

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Public Health (Food) (Nutritional Labeling) (Amendment) 5771-2011 Regulations, KT No. 7019, p. 1198 (July 31, 2011), as amended by KT No. 7160, p. 1661 (Aug. 30, 2012).

[18] See The 19th Knesset Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health Meeting (Protocol No. 47, July 3, 2013) pp. 18–21, http://www.knesset.gov.il/protocols/data/rtf/avoda/2013-07-03.rtf (in Hebrew).

[19] Grunpeter, supra note1.

[20] Gal Tziperman Lotan, Scientists, Activists Debate if Genetically Modified Foods are Panacea or Plague, The Jerusalem Post (Apr. 30, 2008), http://www.jpost.com/Health-and-Sci-Tech/Science-And-Environment/Scientists-activists-debate-if-genetically-modified-foods-are-panacea-or-plague.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] See Natural Food Certifiers, GreenerChoices, http://www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/label.cfm? LabelID=198 (last visited Sept. 16, 2013).

[24] Grunpeter, supra note 1.

[25] The NFC has been certifying products as organic since 2002 and is accredited as an organic certifier by the USDA.  See GreenerChoices, supra note 23.

[26] Daisy Luther, Kosher Certification Program Bans All GMO Ingredients, The Organic Prepper (Apr. 25, 2013), http://www.theorganicprepper.ca/kosher-certification-program-bans-all-gmo-ingredients-04252013.

[27] Seed Regulations (Genetically Modified Plants and Organisms) 5765–2005, KT No. 6391, p. 728. 

[28] Seeds Law, 5716-1956, 10 Laws of the State of Israel [LSI] 99 (5716-1955/56), as amended.

[29] Plant Protection Law, 5716-1956, 10 LSI 75, as amended.

[30] Genetically Modified Plants & Organisms, MARD Plant Protection and Inspection Services, http://www.ppiseng.moag.gov.il/PPISENG/GeneticallyModifiedPlants/LicensingandanalysisofGMplants/ (click on “[l]earn more about the service . . . ”; last visited Nov. 1, 2013).

[31] Id.

[32] Genetically Engineered Food, Ministry of Health, http://www.health.gov.il/unitsoffice/hd/ph/fcs/ novelfood/pages/engfood.aspx (last visited Sept. 18, 2012) (translated by author, R.L.).

[33] Seed Regulations (Genetically Modified Plants and Organisms) 5765-2005, § 3.

[34] The National Committee for Transgenic Plants is a committee appointed by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for matters concerning experiments with transgenic plants and organisms and their sale.  See id. § 2(a).

[35] Id. § 2(b)–(c).

[36] Id. § 7(a).

[37] Id. § 7(b)–(c).

[38] Id. § 8(b).

[39] Id. §§ 9–15.

[40] Id. § 2(b).

[41] Id. § 2(a).

[42] Id.

[43] Ministry of Health, supra note 32.

[44] See discussion, Part II(A), above.

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Last Updated: 05/22/2014