A step back on biosafety, a step forward on traceability and labelling
1. Deregulation of new genetic engineering: The debate has only just begun – Save Our Seeds!
2. A step back on biosafety, a step forward on traceability and labelling – Biodynamic Federation International
1. Deregulation of new genetic engineering: The debate has only just begun
Save Our Seeds!, 7 Feb 2024
Following the European Parliament's vote on the planned deregulation of new genetically engineered plants, Benedikt Haerlin from "Save Our Seeds", the European initiative for GMO-free agriculture, said:
"Today's vote by the European Parliament in favour of deregulating the EU's existing GMO legislation was sad news for Europe's agriculture and environment, for the freedom of choice of Europe's consumers, for the precautionary principle and for an enlightened and critical approach to new technologies and the respectful treatment of different forms of cultivation and nutrition.
"However, today's surprisingly narrow and sometimes contradictory vote in the Parliament is not the end of the debate on honesty, precaution and transparency in the use of genetic engineering on Europe's fields and plates. It has only just begun in the wider public arena.
"With a narrow majority, the EP today called for all new genetically engineered products to be labelled. This is a serious setback for the otherwise successful campaign of the industry lobby, which had previously equated labelling and thus freedom of choice for consumers with a ban on the marketing of their products. Parliament's demand to make the new genetically engineered products traceable and to allow for banning them should doubts arise about their safety is also not what the initiators of the deregulation had in mind.
"However, the good news of the day is that the EU member states in their Council of Permanent Representatives did not agree on a common position on the Commission's deregulation proposal. This is a serious blow to the industry and its allied anti-ecological front of Christian Democrats, Liberals and the more or less extreme right. The decision will probably only be made after the European elections and the summer break.
"Meanwhile, the increasingly clear scientific criticism of the Commission's and Parliament's concept will deepen. The questionable promise to prevent the patenting of genetically engineered seeds will be legally checked. There will be time to thoroughly reconsider the actual risks and possible consequences of complete deregulation. During the election campaign, millions of voters will be able to scrutinise the position of their MPs.
"Despite the disappointment of today's narrow vote, there is still hope. After all, today has made it clear that not only the majority of European citizens, but also a strong minority in their parliament continues to stand up for freedom of choice, precaution and respect for farmers and their diverse cultivation methods. We will do our best to ensure that reason and understanding in the democratic handling of new genetic engineering techniques ultimately succeed."
2. A step back on biosafety, a step forward on traceability and labelling
Biodynamic Federation International, 7 Feb 2024
In a tight vote, the European Parliament adopted in plenary today the proposal on New Genomic Techniques (NGTs). For the Biodynamic Federation Demeter International, representing the biodynamic farming movement worldwide as part of the organic sector, the Parliament went backwards on biosafety, but introduced some improvements on traceability and labelling.
Today’s vote opens many questions on the impact of the proposal on biosafety. Category 1 NGTs will no longer undergo a thorough risk assessment as is currently the case. This is even more important, considering the lack of scientific evidence guiding the distinction between category 1 and category 2 NGTs. The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and the French food safety authority, ANSES, both pointed out the absence of a scientific basis for the criteria laid out in Annex I of the proposal, which would impact the number of NGTs that must undergo risk assessment, ignoring the risks NGTs could pose to the environment and our health.
Another key point is the issue of patents. While the Parliament recognised the problem for farmers and breeders alike, the proposed measures won’t be enough to protect them. Intellectual property rights attached to NGTs extend to genetic material and traits that can also be obtained by conventional breeding, thus exposing farmers to legal threats from multinational corporations. Only a modification of the European Patents Convention could limit the scope of patents related to genetic engineering. Meanwhile, traceability and labelling of NGTs provide a minimum level of information that help operators identify potential patents and avoid legal threats.
In line with the organic sector’s demand, the Biodynamic Federation Demeter International welcomes the maintenance of the ban of all NGTs in organic production. The Federation remains indeed committed not to use NGTs, as is stipulated in the Demeter Standard. However, the legal and technical means to implement the ban in practice are missing so far, putting the burden on the operators alone.
"The Parliament made a first step in the right direction with including mandatory document-based traceability for category 1 NGTs. What’s missing now is the possibility for Member States to adopt coexistence measures for category 1 NGTs plants and products, such as provisions for separation distances, to diminish the risk of contamination from NGTs in other crops, along with liability measures," urges Clara Behr, Head of Policy and Public Relations for the Federation.
More importantly, the Parliament also reintroduced mandatory labelling for category 1 NGTs, which is fundamental to ensure freedom of choice for consumers and addressing citizens’ perception. An EU-wide petition, which collected more than 420,000 signatures, showed that citizens remain concerned about the use of NGTs and prefer to uphold mandatory risk assessment, traceability, and labelling for all NGTs.
For the upcoming negotiations, "EU policymakers must ensure the freedom of choice of farmers, food producers, and consumers by ensuring traceability along the entire supply chain through the adoption of robust coexistence and liability measures while guaranteeing a minimum level of biosafety for our health and environment. A proper assessment of all issues at stake will require time and thorough discussions," urges Clara Behr.