Austrian government says proposal is "unacceptable"
1. EU Commission proposal to deregulate new GMOs in spectacular submission to the biotech industry – Corporate Europe Observatory
2. Deregulation of new genomic techniques – GMO-free agriculture and food production is at stake – ENGA
3. GLOBAL 2000 on the new genetic engineering bill: Fatal for environment and consumers – Global 2000
4. NGT proposal a step backward for biosafety, freedom of choice and consumers’ information – IFOAM
5. Statement of German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke
6. Austrian government statement: EU proposal on “new genetic engineering” unacceptable
7. Genetic engineering-free plant breeding and seed production soon no longer possible? – IG Saatgut
8. Seed law reform and new genetic engineering: double attack on our seeds! – ARCHE NOAH
1. EU Commission proposal to deregulate new GMOs in spectacular submission to the biotech industry
Corporate Europe Observatory, 5 July 2023
The European Commission has launched its highly controversial proposal to deregulate New GMOs or ‘new genomic techniques’. This will increase risks for the environment and health, and undermine the rights of farmers and consumers.
The new proposal means:
* No risk assessment for health and the environmental impacts of these new GMOs
* No consumer labelling, no traceability: Consumers will not know if they are eating new GMOs, that are in addition untested.
* New GMOs are not allowed in organic farming, but no measures are foreseen to allow GM-free and organic farmers and breeders to keep their fields GMO-free.
* Corporations already dominating the patent pool on these technologies, like Corteva, Bayer and BASF, will be able to enter the EU market with unlabelled and untraceable - but patented – GMOs, which will further increase their control over farmers and food production in Europe.
Corporate Europe Observatory, along with hundreds of environmental and farming groups, is strongly opposed to this proposal.
Nina Holland researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) says:
“This deregulation proposal is a massive give-away by the European Commission to corporations like Bayer and BASF, without getting anything in return.
“This will not lead to more sustainable farming practices, on the contrary. The assumption the Commission makes that new GMOs would lead to more sustainability were based solely on industry’s claims, instead of real evidence.
“Since new GM seeds will be patented, this will erode farmers’ rights, and it will lead to a further monopolisation of the already highly concentrated seed market.
“Unless corrected by member states and the European Parliament, such a move would ignore the interests of farmers, civil society and biodiversity.”
Direct outcome of corporate lobby push
This deregulation was driven by the biotech multinational giants Bayer (Monsanto), BASF, Syngenta and Corteva, with some researchers from institutes like the VIB or Wageningen University acting as their frontmen claiming to invoke the “authority of science” while having close ties to industry. Corporate Europe Observatory has been documenting this intense lobbying push for deregulation for years.
Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory, says:
“The Commission wrongly claims that this deregulation of new GMOs will help obtain the EU Green Deal objectives. There is no evidence that new GMOs will reduce pesticides, and since the dominant biotech seed and pesticide corporations are one and the same (Bayer, BASF, Corteva, Syngenta) there is even less reason to believe that this would be their priority.
“The European Commission was warned of the negative consequences of such a proposal multiple times by scientists, small farmers, the organic food sector and a large number of civil society organisations. DG SANTE has chosen to consistently ignore the voices of these groups to the extent of breaking its own rules on democratic process
“Environmental and consumer safety authorities, as well as members of the EU Parliament, should outright reject this proposal.”
The EU Ombudsman started an inquiry last month after CEO and Friends of the Earth Europe submitted a complaint about the biased process by DG SANTE.
2. Deregulation of new genomic techniques – GMO-free agriculture and food production is at stake
ENGA [Non-GMO Industry Association], 5 July 2023
With its proposed legislation on New Genomic Techniques - published today - the European Commission plans to unleash untested and unlabelled GMOs onto European fields, into the supermarkets and on to people’s plates. This goes directly against the wishes of the food sector, retailers and EU citizens. By ignoring the 2018 European Court of Justice ruling that confirmed that New Genomic Techniques must be subject to risk assessment, traceability and labelling it is an attack on GMO-free agriculture and food production in the European Union.
Current regulations mean that genetically engineered food and feed is clearly labelled, and GM ingredients have to be traced throughout the whole value chain. If the European Commission’s proposed legislation passes into law, then it will only be required that GM seeds are labelled and transparency will only apply to breeders and farmers (meaning no labelling and traceability for food producers, retailers, or consumers). ENGA (the European Non-GMO Association) calls on the European Parliament and Member States to stand up for their citizens and completely reject this proposal, which denies them the right to know what is in their food.
The European Commission’s plans for a deregulation of New GMOs go against what EU citizens want (in an EU-wide 2021 poll, it was found that 68% of respondents who have heard about new GM techniques, like CRISPR/Cas, want GMO food produced with those techniques to be labelled as GMOs.) And it also completely goes against the wishes of the food (including conventional Non-GMO and organic) and retail sectors: the majority of these sectors is in favour of maintaining the current food safety and transparency standards for New GMOs – this was a finding of the European Commission’s own consultation as part of its Impact Assessment prior to launching its legislative proposal.
The Commission’s proposal also neglects to deal seriously with the issue of coexistence: under this legislation there would be no functioning mechanism to protect food business operators, that want to remain GMO-free, against GMO contamination.
This deregulation proposal is a huge threat for the whole GMO-free agriculture and food production in the EU, and especially to two vital segments of the EU food market: conventional and organic Non-GMO production. The organic sector is one which the Commission purportedly backs, given its Green Deal aim to have 25% of the EU’s farmland under organic production by 2030.
Despite this, the Commission’s proposal risks contaminating conventional and organic fields with GMOs. For the organic and conventional Non-GMO food sector (both billion-euro markets), without legally-binding GMO traceability and labelling and EU-wide coexistence rules throughout the whole value chain – from seeds to final products – the sectors’ freedom to conduct GMO-free business is undermined.
ENGA calls for:
* Labelling and transparency to apply to all products derived from NGTs and to be made available to all parts of the food value chain and consumers;
* EU-wide legally binding coexistence rules, liability in case of GMO contamination, application of the polluter pays principle – those who use New GMOs have to keep their GMOs out of other operators' supply chains, and
* Risk assessment and safety testing for all NGTs.
Heike Moldenhauer, Secretary General of ENGA, comments:
“The European Commission’s proposed legislation illustrates its complete disregard for the right of consumers to know what is in their food, as well as for farmers and all those in the food value chain to have transparency over GMOs from seed to final product. This is a potentially disastrous deregulation proposal, which would massively affect the conventional and organic Non-GMO food sectors, who will ultimately pay the price.
“It’s clear that the Commission has bought the propaganda of big agribusiness that New GMOs can provide some kind of panacea to the problems that society faces. We are yet to see any evidence to back up either the sustainability claims of New GMOs, nor do we even know how safe they are given that their unintended effects haven’t been assessed and that there are hardly any available on the market. We call on the European Parliament and Ministers from Member States to wholeheartedly reject this proposal.”
3. GLOBAL 2000 on the new genetic engineering bill: Fatal for environment and consumers
* Environment Ministers and EU Parliament must reject legislative proposal
Today the European Commission published its legislative proposal for New Genetic Engineering (NGT). If the EU Commission has its way, the majority of plants to which New Genetic Engineering methods such as CRISPR/Cas have been applied will no longer be tested for risks or labeled on food packaging. "This legislative proposal sacrifices the rights of consumers, farmers and the food sector - based on completely empty promises of sustainability by the agricultural industry. This proposal endangers the environment and biodiversity by wanting to bring untested New Genetic Engineering products onto our fields and plates," criticises Brigitte Reisenberger, GLOBAL 2000 genetic engineering spokesperson. "We appeal to the EU Parliament and the Ministers for Environmental and Consumer Protection to reject this deregulation proposal. The political decision-makers must give priority to the rights of consumers and the protection of the environment and health over the economic interests of the agricultural industry! The future lies in a diverse, agro-ecological agriculture and self-determined nutrition that goes hand in hand with genuine climate and environmental protection", Brigitte Reisenberger from the environmental protection organization GLOBAL 2000 is convinced.
GMO labelling on the end product deleted
According to the draft law, the majority of all NGT plants would fall into a newly created category (NGT 1) and would therefore no longer be tested for risks and would not be labeled as genetic engineering on the end product.
EU Commission's sustainability smear
"The exclusion of NGT plants from labelling serves to open new markets for already large agribusinesses and removes transparency for food producers and retailers. The planned cuts make it impossible for consumers to know what they are buying and to make an informed purchasing decision," analyses Brigitte Reisenberger. "With this deregulation push for New Genetic Engineering, the EU Commission is falling for the advertising promises of the big seed companies. Climate-smart NGT crops are just corporate promises. There is no evidence that NGT crops will help solve environmental and agricultural problems. The European Commission assumes that legal hurdles will prevent corporations from marketing NGT seeds, NGT food and NGT feed in Europe. However, "In countries that have largely deregulated NGT crops, such as Canada or the U.S., only a handful of NGT seeds were grown for a few years before they flopped and disappeared from the market again," says Brigitte Reisenberger. There are hardly any NGT seeds that can be grown or marketed anywhere in the world - not even in countries where regulatory hurdles are lower or have been abolished. There, too, GM companies have failed to deliver on their promises - even though in these countries most GM crops can be sold just like any other crop.
Patents put pressure on farmers
Virtually all NGT plants are patented. The EU Commission ignores the close entanglement of patents and new genetic engineering and thus plays into the hands of global seed corporations. Because: "The draft law promotes the market entry of patented seeds and thus the monopolization of seeds. If this deregulation comes about, there will be a flood of patented seed in the EU, which will include both genetically modified and conventional seed. This will have disastrous consequences for small and medium-sized seed breeders, farmers, food producers and consumers," said Brigitte Reisenberger of GLOBAL 2000.
"If this bill is implemented as it is, we Europeans will lose traceability, risk assessment, the EU precautionary principle and mandatory labelling of genetic engineering in our food. Traceability and labelling are key to know what is in our fields and plates! The ball is now in the court of the EU Ministers for the Environment and Consumer Protection and the European Parliament to reject this fatal deregulation proposal," emphasizes Brigitte Reisenberger, GLOBAL 2000 spokesperson for genetic engineering.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
4. NGT proposal a step backward for biosafety, freedom of choice and consumers’ information
IFOAM, 5 July 2023
IFOAM Organics Europe considers the Commission’s proposal to deregulate “New Genomic Techniques” (NGTs) as misguided, dangerous for European seed autonomy, and a distraction from the agroecological solutions needed to move agriculture towards sustainability. The organic movement urges Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and governments to act to protect the freedom of farmers and consumers not to use or buy products from genetic engineering, and to prevent the monopolisation of genetic resources through patents.
Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organics Europe's President, said: “Exempting certain NGTs from risk assessment, traceability and labelling is a step backward for biosafety and consumer information, and is unlikely to bring any benefit for sustainability. Rather, this proposal is a massive accelerator for a lucrative business model from the biotech and chemical industry. It seems that the European Commission unfortunately followed misleading industry promises and their business interests before closing the dangerous loopholes in the patent rights framework. This is a bad day for the European model of a diverse farming and breeding sector. Now, the organic movement calls on the Council and Parliament to at least maintain traceability for NGTs all along the production chain, a legal basis for measures to ensure co-existence, as well as consumers information.”
He added: “Consumers want to know how their food is produced, and expect that organic production is done without genetic engineering. In terms of sustainability, organic agriculture has been at the forefront of transitioning our agricultural systems to practices which are good for biodiversity and planetary health. But the success of our movement depends on consumers trust, and traceability and labelling of all GMOs are essential to protect the organic market and the reputation of organic products.”
IFOAM Organics Europe regrets that the proposal on genetic engineering does not support an evidence-based and systematic approach to agriculture. It rather seeks to sacrifice the precautionary principle to make way to technological fixes with unproven benefits and potential unintended effects and risks.
While the proposal explicitly prohibits NGTs from organic production – in line with the position of the organic food and farming sector that NGTs should not be used in organic production – it does not provide a clear basis to protect GMO-free and organic production with co-existence measures, nor to ensure a fair distribution of risks and burdens.
Marian Blom, IFOAM Organics Europe’s Board Vice-President and Knowledge & Innovation Project Leader at Bionext said: “In terms of consumer information and their freedom of choice, the Commission seems to have decided to address citizens’ skepticism by either eradicating end-product labelling for Category 1 NGT plants, so that consumers cannot know whether a product contains GMOs or not, or giving the industry the possibility to add voluntary additional information for Category 2 NGT plants. This lack of labelling and reliance on optional statements will decrease transparency, enable greenwashing, and confuse consumers even more.”
Dora Drexler, IFOAM Organics Europe’s Board Vice-President and Managing Director of the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKI), warned: “This proposal on NGTs is a threat to the European model of innovation in breeding. NGTs will contribute to monopolising patents on genetic material in the hands of just a few companies. As long as there is no prohibition in EU law of patents on traits and genetic resources that can also be obtained by traditional breeding, traceability is essential to protect breeders and farmers from patents on seeds and to safeguard the possibility for a more systemic and truly sustainable approach to plant breeding.
Bernard Lignon, IFOAM Organics Europe's Board member and Regulations and Organic Product Quality Project Lead at Synabio, added: “The Commission’s proposal on “New Genomic Techniques” (NGTs) is a step back from Europe’s ambitious environmental goals in the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork and the EU Biodiversity Strategies. The process leading up to the publication of this proposal was guided by misleading, empty industry promises of sustainability “potential”, at the cost of the precautionary principle, biosafety, and transparent information for both producers and consumers.”
The proposal comes a few days after the European organic movement adopted a resolution to keep organic GMO-free in favour of a system-based approach of innovation. In its resolution, the movement re-affirms the demand of organic breeders, farmers, processors, certifiers, traders, and retailers to preserve their freedom of choice to remain GMO-free, including GMOs derived from New Genomic Techniques (NGTs).
The organic movement calls for MEPs and Member States to make sure that principles of risk assessment, traceability, and consumer labelling are applied to all GMOs, including crops derived from gene editing.
For ‘Category 1 NGT Plants’, mandatory traceability along the entire production chain is eradicated and replaced by insufficient provisions for a public registry and seed labelling, which only provide minimal transparency at a breeding and farming level. This fails to deliver real co-existence measures, which depend on mandatory traceability from operator to operator until the end consumer.
The transparency provisions for these crops would place the economic and administrative burden of ensuring GM-free production, including additional identification, controls, and tests, fully on the operators who do not wish to use them, without providing the proper basis to do so.
A further concern is that for both Category 1 and Category 2 NGT plants, national opt-outs are prohibited, taking away the possibility for Member States to decide what is cultivated on their territory. Especially for Category 2 NGT plants, where Member States are obliged to come up with national co-existence measures, this is a striking contradiction.
5. Statement of German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke
5 July 2023
"The protection of consumers is my top priority. In the discussion on the EU Commission's proposal on new genetic engineering... The interests of consumers must be safeguarded. They have the right to know what they are buying and what they are consuming - and they must also be able to recognise this on the food shelf in the supermarket. This is why compulsory labelling of genetically modified plants and products made from them is crucial, because it is the only way to give people freedom of choice when buying food.
"In its current form, the EU Commission's proposal makes it possible for large quantities of genetically modified plants to be brought into the fields and ultimately into the supermarkets without prior risk assessment and labelling for consumers. I think that is wrong.
"In order to be able to use innovations sustainably, the precautionary principle must be maintained in the regulation of genetic engineering, which requires that dangers to the environment and human health be avoided in advance. To achieve this, the risk of genetically modified plants is tested and evaluated before they are allowed to be used in the field. Since it is almost impossible to remove genetically modified plants from the environment once they have been released, we need a safety assessment. The risk assessment looks at both the intended and unintended effects of the genetic modification on the plant and the environment.
"The new genetic engineering methods also enable profound changes to be made to the genetic material of plants. In the European process that now follows, I will work to ensure that the precautionary principle, freedom of choice and transparency are upheld."
6. Austrian government statement: EU proposal on “new genetic engineering” unacceptable
* Approval and labelling requirements are non-negotiable - protection for consumers as well as organic and non-GMO agriculture
The European Commission today presented its proposal to regulate “New Genetic Engineering” (NGT). In the future, the member states will be forced to allow the cultivation of genetically modified plants, in some cases without labelling or regular approval procedures. “We have positioned ourselves in Austria as a pioneer in organic and non-GMO agriculture. Strict regulations also for the so-called 'new genetic engineering' are a common government position. The Commission's proposal is a danger for the Austrian way of agriculture, and also takes away consumers' freedom of choice," agree Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler, Consumer Protection Minister Johannes Rauch and Agriculture Minister Norbert Totschnig. "We will not allow that, so we will do everything we can in Brussels to that strict rules for genetically modified plants and food will continue to apply. The fact that the EU Commission is forcing the member states to allow the uncontrolled cultivation of genetically modified plants is unacceptable.”
The proposal for “new genetic engineering”
The proposal for the so-called "new genetic engineering" is intended to significantly soften the current strict rules for testing and labelling in the future. It would therefore no longer be clear to consumers whether an end product has been genetically modified or contains genetically modified components (e.g. genetically modified corn, corn starch).
So-called “new genetic engineering” (NGT) refers to a series of methods that change the genome of a plant.
According to the Commission's proposal, "new genetic engineering" products should now be divided into two categories. Category 1 includes all plants and products that meet certain criteria and that, in the Commission's opinion, could also be produced using conventional methods of conventional breeding, Category 2 all other plants and products that were produced using "new genetic engineering". While category 2 continues to be subject to GMO legislation, albeit with reduced requirements in terms of safety assessment and detection methods, category 1 (also known as NGT1) is said to be subject to massive changes in approval and labelling requirements.
The Austrian government's position is clear: the three cornerstones of the precautionary principle, scientific risk assessment and labelling requirements must apply to all categories of so-called “new genetic engineering”. This was also recorded in the government agreement. Austria will therefore insist on maintaining the good and strict rules with the EU Commission.
End of mandatory approval and bans on cultivation
Because the draft regulation of the European Commission provides that all NGT1 plants are subject to a notification procedure. After that, NGT plants may also be cultivated throughout the EU. There is no longer any way of prohibiting this in Austria, and the hard-fought opportunity to “opt-out” would be history for NGT1 plants.
Without labelling there is no freedom of choice
The proposal no longer envisages labelling for NGT1 [Commission's "Category 1"] products of “New Genetic Engineering”. This leads to a significant loss of transparency in the food trade, for producers, retailers and customers, because it is then no longer clear whether it is an NGT1 product. Thus, the right to freedom of choice for consumers, but also for producers, is abolished.
Coexistence and organic farming at risk
Organic farming is also coming under pressure: the use of NGT1 plants is said to be banned for organic, but only for seeds, not for animal feed. According to these rules, organic milk from cows fed NGT1 plants would be conceivable. Even more problematic, however, is that the Commission's proposal does not include any rules to prevent cross-contamination when, for example, NGT1 crops are grown alongside organic crops. Austria could no longer ban the cultivation of NGT plants of both categories.
“The proposal represents a significant softening of the previous strict regulations contrary to Austrian demands. The Austrian position is clear: The existing rules and regulations of genetic engineering must also apply to methods of "new genetic engineering", said Minister of Consumer Protection Johannes Rauch. “People in Austria want to know what they are eating. Transparency on the plate can only be guaranteed through mandatory labelling.”
“Genetically modified plants always involve a certain risk. We don't know how they behave in nature, we don't know where they spread and where they end up. That is why the precautionary principle has long applied in Austria. We want to be in control, we want to know where this seed is grown and what ends up on the plate. The new proposal tries to take away this freedom of choice from us and from the people of Austria. This is unacceptable and we will use all means to prevent these rules from coming into force," said Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler.
“We have a clear government position on the new breeding methods. Austria's agriculture is GMO-free in cultivation, we want to continue to secure this pioneering role. The possible patentability of varieties produced with new breeding methods also threatens our small-scale agriculture and seed economy. The trust of our consumers in our food and freedom of choice are valuable assets. We want to continue on this path. The coexistence with organic production must be guaranteed,” said Minister of Agriculture Norbert Totschnig.
7. Genetic engineering-free plant breeding and seed production soon no longer possible?
IG Saatgut, 5 July 2023
* Plant breeders and seed producers demand: German government and MEPs must reject EU Commission proposal to deregulate new genetic engineering in plants
A proposal for new EU genetic engineering legislation published today by the EU Commission stipulates that a large proportion of plants produced using new genetic engineering techniques (known in EU jargon as "new genomic techniques - NGT") should no longer be regulated under current EU genetic engineering law in the future. The proposal thus largely follows the interests of the agricultural industry. The plant breeders and seed producers of the Interessengemeinschaft für gentechnikfreie Saatgutarbeit (IG Saatgut) call on the German government and MEPs to completely reject the EU Commission's proposal. Only in this way can freedom of choice and the precautionary principle remain implemented and sustainable plant breeding be ensured.
"The EU Commission's proposal is fundamentally flawed and must be rejected completely, because otherwise GMO-free breeding and seed work, whether conventional or organic, would no longer be possible in the long term," comments Stefi Clar, seed gardener in Witzenhausen and board member of Dreschflegel e.V.. "An increase in the cultivation of genetically modified plants is to be expected, which would then grow in the open without any coexistence, liability, transparency or monitoring requirements. Their harvested products could be marketed unlabelled. Due to cross-pollination and contamination, this would prospectively lead to an agriculture that would be highly interspersed with genetically modified organisms in a completely non-transparent, non-traceable manner. The freedom of choice to produce and consume non-GMO seeds and non-GMO foods would no longer exist."
"Deregulation of new GM crops would lead to a flood of patented seeds entering the European market and a 'patent thicket' that would be impenetrable for most plant breeders and seed producers," criticises Gebhard Rossmanith of Bingenheimer Saatgut AG. "This would massively hinder access to genetic material for plant breeders, although free access is essential for the development of new varieties. In addition, the large seed companies would thus be able to further expand their market power. Small and medium-sized breeding companies in particular would be forced out of the market, although it is precisely their innovative potential for the further development of crop diversity that is urgently needed in times of climate and biodiversity crisis."
"The proposed deregulation must be stopped, because it threatens the very approaches to breeding, seed production and agriculture that we urgently need to solve the biodiversity and climate crises," adds Gebhard Rossmanith. "The genetic and biological diversity we need for agroecological, systemic approaches to breeding and agriculture is threatened by the planned deregulation of new genetic engineering."
Interessengemeinschaft für gentechnikfreie Saatgutarbeit (IG Saatgut) represents companies and organizations from organic breeding, farmer seed work, organic seed production and seed trade, and conservation initiatives. They are based in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
In a landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on July 25, 2018, that new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR-Cas must be regulated under European genetic engineering law. Today's proposal by the EU Commission contradicts key aspects of this case law.
Genetically modified plants, which are supposed to be "equivalent" to conventional plants (so-called "category 1" plants), could then in future enter fields and markets without an approval procedure and thus without risk assessment. With the exception of seed labelling, no traceability or labelling rules would be prescribed for "Category 1 plants" along the value chain or for end consumers. In addition, there would no longer be any legally anchored "coexistence" requirements for the growers of genetically modified plants, such as spacing rules. Any legal precautionary obligations to protect against cross-breeding or mixing, as well as the obligation to create transparency about GMO cultivation areas, would no longer apply. Companies wishing to market these new genetically engineered plants would no longer have to submit verification procedures for their products.
The criteria for classifying new GM plants as allegedly "equivalent" to conventional plants are very broad, arbitrarily defined and scientifically untenable. They contradict the precautionary principle enshrined in EU law. It can be assumed that a large proportion of future plants produced using new genetic engineering techniques would fall into this category.
Unlike conventional plant breeding, both the processes and the products of new genetic engineering techniques are patentable under EU law (EU Biotechnology Directive 98/44). Espacenet, the database of the European Patent Office, lists around 700 patent applications for "Crispr-Cas9 and plants" alone. Internationally, more than 20,000 patent applications have been filed that relate to the term "Crispr-Cas9 plant." The patent applications usually relate to both the specific technical process and the specific properties resulting from the process. The scope of the patent claims is often very broad. The patents usually claim all plants with the specified characteristic, regardless of how the plants were bred - in this way, the scope of the patents can also apply to conventionally bred plants and farm, local and traditional seeds, although these are not patentable under EU law. Furthermore, such patents also extend to the crop and food containing the claimed trait. For more information on patents and new genetic engineering, see this background report.
As part of the EU legislative process, the European Parliament and the governments of the EU member states must now comment on the EU Commission's proposal in the Council of Ministers.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
8. Seed law reform and new genetic engineering: double attack on our seeds!
ARCHE NOAH, Association for the Conservation and Dissemination of Cultivated Plant Diversity, 5 July 2023
* EU proposals fuel monopolisation at the expense of farmers and consumers
Today the European Commission presented the a package of legislation in relation to "sustainable use of natural resources", which includes the new "EU Seed Regulation" and a legislative proposal to deregulate the "New Genetic Engineering". "We are dismayed by this attack on our seeds and crop diversity in Europe," says Magdalena Prieler, policy officer for ARCHE NOAH in Brussels. "With these proposals we run the risk of global corporations gaining complete control over our food. Agriculture Ministers and the European Parliament must act to protect farmers, consumers, and biodiversity!”
According to ARCHE NOAH, which has hands on expertise in the cultivation and sustainable use of the cultivated plant diversity, the proposed seed marketing regulation burdens the transfer of diverse seeds with excessive rules, to the detriment of agriculture and crop diversity. Any transfer of seeds outside the private sphere is classified as "marketing" and subjected to strict bureaucratic regulations. Even the transfer of seeds for the preservation of diversity, which has so far been freely possible in Austria for example, is to be tightly restricted. "Seed initiatives, gene banks and farmer networks all over Europe preserve the genetic diversity of cultivated plants. This valuable work must not be endangered by bureaucratic and impractical requirements," demands Magdalena Prieler of ARCHE NOAH.
Today is also a dark day for farmers who want to preserve their independence from the big seed corporations. According to the current draft, they are only allowed to exchange their own seeds in small quantities and under certain conditions. Selling is no longer possible. Public gene banks, private collections and seed initiatives are also no longer allowed to give their seeds to farmers. "The draft denies farmers their right to seed! Important alternatives to industrial seed are being destroyed. Our farmers want to be able to decide for themselves which seeds they buy and cultivate, not least in order to adapt their fields to the climate crisis," says Prieler.
ARCHE NOAH demands that the dissemination and sustainable use of crop diversity be expressly permitted and that all regulations that hinder this work be deleted from the seed law. Furthermore, the right of farmers to harvest, use, exchange and sell their own seeds, as enshrined in international law, must be implemented. ARCHE NOAH welcomes the fact that the sale of seeds to hobby gardeners is exempted from the obligation to certify varieties. Private exchange and sale should remain completely free, but this concession to diversity does not mitigate the serious shortcomings in other parts of the legislation.
ARCHE NOAH sees the planned deregulation of new genetic engineering as a further burden for the (GMO-free) conservation of cultivated plant diversity. “Our farmers would be at the mercy of powerful agrochemical corporations like Bayer, BASF, Corteva and Syngenta, which already control more than half of the global seed market." Patents on GM plants provide exclusive rights to the use of certain important traits and block the development of new varieties," warns Magdalena Prieler of ARCHE NOAH. "The use of disease resistances that are essential for survival must not be privatised. New genetic engineering is first and foremost a tool for corporations to squeeze their competitors out of the market and expand further their control over our food system."
The EU Seed Regulation proposed today will replace ten existing directives. It regulates the production and marketing of seeds and other plant propagating material (potatoes, fruit plants, etc). With the new regulation, the European Commission intends to adapt the outdated seed legislation to the goals of the European Green Deal. "We urgently need more diversity in our fields and on our plates to counteract the climate and biodiversity crisis and to produce tasty, healthy food. Unfortunately, this draft does not achieve that," Prieler notes.
In the coming days, the European Parliament and the Council of Agriculture Ministers will start their work on the draft legislation. A first exchange is planned for the Council meeting on 25 July. "Agriculture Ministers and the Parliament have a lot of work to do: They must demand farmers' right to seeds and protect crop diversity from overregulation and patents! Because genetic diversity is our insurance against the challenges of tomorrow ", Magdalena Prieler summarises.