Commission wants to trash precautionary principle
1. European Commission opens the door to new GMOs – Slow Food International
2. EU Commission opening the door for new GMOs – Greenpeace European Unit
3. Organic movement raises red flag on assumed benefits deregulating new genomic techniques – IFOAM
4. The European Commission wants to change GMO legislation after refusing to properly harmonise and apply it – European Coordination Via Campesina
1. European Commission opens the door to new GMOs
Slow Food International, 29 April 2021
* European Commission backtracks and opens the door to the deregulation of new GMOs, putting citizens and farmers’ freedom of choice at risk
Slow Food is deeply alarmed by the European Commission’s conclusions from the study on “new genomic techniques” which opens the door to the deregulation of new GMOs, ignoring the precautionary principle.
“Through the EU Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission committed to accelerate the transition towards a truly sustainable food system. By suggesting that EU GMO rules must be re-opened, the Commission is falling into the trap of pursuing techno-fixes rather than investing in and promoting agroecological systems that benefit farmers, local communities, and the wider environment,” says Marta Messa, director of Slow Food Europe.
What does the Commission study say?
Today, the European Commission released its long-awaited study on new genomic techniques, which was requested by the Council of the EU in November 2019. The study concludes that:
* “NGT products and their applications could provide benefits for EU society and address major challenges” including “resilience and sustainability in the agri-food system”
* That to enable new GMOs to contribute to sustainability, “an appropriate mechanism to evaluate their benefits should be considered”
* Current EU GMOs rules are not fit for purpose.
The study then concludes that a new policy regulating new GMOs is needed. This is deeply alarming as it implies that the Commission is looking to weaken the rules currently regulating GMOs and gene editing. Commissioner Kyriakides, head of the EU Health department, states that “New Genomic Techniques can promote the sustainability of agricultural production, in line with the objectives of our Farm to Fork Strategy.”
Slow Food’s take
In 2018, the European court of Justice ruled that the exclusion of new GMOs from the EU GMO directive “would compromise the objective of protection pursued by the directive and would fail to respect the precautionary principle which it seeks to implement,”. The European Commission is now dangerously contesting the ruling. If new GMOs will not undergo safety tests, will not be tracked, nor labelled, this will be bad news for European citizens onto whose plates new GMOs may make their way unnoticed and unlabelled, and for farmers and breeders, for whom guaranteeing new GM-free food will become increasingly difficult and costly.
New GMOs present numerous risks for human health, animal welfare, the environment and the food sovereignty of small-scale farmers. Without strict regulation:
* New GMOs wouldn’t have to undergo a case-by-case risk assessment meaning that unsafe products could make their way onto EU supermarket shelves.
* No data would be available to track and trace the new GMO organisms and products that end up on the market as they would no longer need to be labelled.
* Severe damage to ecosystems and biodiversity could arise, as no measures could be taken against the uncontrolled spread of new GMO organisms in the environment. Agriculture and food production relying on GMO-free sources could no longer be protected.
“The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to provide consumers with better information so that citizens can make informed choices and contribute to the transition towards more sustainable food systems. Deregulating new GMOs would mean these would no longer be required to be labelled, in complete contradiction with the aims of the Farm to Fork Strategy. We urge the Member States to defend the precautionary principle, citizens safety, farmers’ freedom of choice and biodiversity,” Messa says.
Genetic engineering technology has evolved since the introduction of the first genetically modified (GM) crops more than 20 years ago. A set of new GM techniques has emerged that scientists collectively call ‘gene editing’. Gene editing allows genetic engineers to modify existing genes rather than adding genes from other species. These new technologies are also referred to as “New Breeding Techniques” (agro biotechnology industry), “novel genomic techniques” (Council of the EU) or “new genomic techniques” (European Commission). Slow Food calls these new techniques of genetic engineering “New GMOs” as, according to the ECJ ruling, these are legally and technically genetic modification techniques, and thus present the same risks.
In 2018, the European court of justice (ECJ) ruled that new GMOs must be regulated as GMO under EU regulations, following the precautionary principle. The ECJ ruling means that the new generation of GM crops and seeds should go through safety checks, an authorization process and be labelled before they can be placed on the market, to guarantee farmers, food producers and consumers the right to know whether a food product contains GM organisms or not.
Slow Food has a long-standing position against GMOs due to the risks they present to biodiversity, the threats they pose to small-scale farmers’ livelihoods, and to the fact that they are incompatible with an agricultural system based on agroecology. In addition, products from genomic techniques are covered by patents owned by a handful of multinationals. Patents on seeds have negative economic consequences for the agricultural sector, including monopolization and concentration of the seed market. GM agriculture fosters the development of intensive monocultures, posing a growing threat to the survival of traditional seeds and rural communities themselves, who are increasingly deprived of their means of production and livelihoods.
The EU must fully implement the European Court of Justice’s ruling of 2018 and ensure new GMOs are subject to basic safety checks and authorization requirements. A letter was sent to European Commission vice-president Timmermans on 30 March 2021 warning, among others, of the risks of deregulating new GMOs.
2. EU Commission opening the door for new GMOs
Greenpeace European Unit, 29 April 2021
The European Commission is gearing up to exempt new genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from current environmental rules, Greenpeace has warned. The EU Commission today released a report on new genetic modification techniques such as CRISPR/Cas, which concludes that more permissive rules may be needed to allow GMOs produced with these techniques.
In 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled that new GMOs must be regulated under the existing EU GMO laws, as to exempt them “would compromise the objective of protection” and “would fail to respect the precautionary principle”.
Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace EU GMO policy adviser, said: “The EU has a responsibility to protect the rights of farmers to choose what they plant and for people to choose what they eat, and to protect the environment and biodiversity from potential harm from new GMOs. The EU Commission and national governments must respect the precautionary principle and the European Court of Justice’s decision – GMOs by another name are still GMOs, and must be treated as such under the law.”
New genetic modification techniques allow biotech companies to make significant changes to organisms that are not found in nature, and fundamentally different from traditional breeding techniques. Evidence is growing that new GMO techniques can have unintended mutational effects, as well as the changes the developers want to make.
The European Commission’s report is intended to form the basis of discussions with national governments regarding the future regulation of new GMOs. Greenpeace is calling on the Commission and national governments to apply the European Court of Justice’s ruling and to make sure that GMOs produced with new techniques are subject to the same regulations as older GMOs.
Greenpeace has prepared a briefing on the risks associated with the environmental release of new GMOs for agricultural purposes.
3. Organic movement raises red flag on assumed benefits deregulating new genomic techniques
IFOAM, 29 Apr 2021
The organic food and farming movement criticises the Commission’s plan to work on a new legal framework for plants derived from ‘New Genomic Techniques’. In a report published today, the EU Commission revealed they are ready to explore options for a new legal framework if Member States give their green light.
The organic sector calls on agriculture and environment ministers as well as the EU Commission to safeguard the capability of producers and farmers to produce without GMOs and allow consumers to choose what they eat. The existing regulation is fit to achieve these goals and already allows research on and marketing of GMOs if the applicable rules are respected.
Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organics Europe President said: “A weakening of the rules on the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and food is worrying news and could leave organic food systems unprotected – including their ability to trace GMOs throughout the food chain to avoid contaminations that lead to economic losses and to live up to organic quality standards and consumer expectations. Organic producers urge the Commission and Member States to maintain the existing regulatory framework and seriously consider the impact of the proposed regulatory scenario on organic food & farming, consumer choice and access to agrobiodiversity.”
According to IFOAM Organics Europe, transparency on the use of genetic modification should continue to apply all along the food production chain. Contrary to the study’s outcomes, weakening the regulation of these technologies would actually contradict the objectives of the EU Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, as well as the European Court of Justice ruling which states that this new generation of genetically modified organisms must be regulated under the EU’s existing GMO laws [i]”.
“It is baffling that the Commission envisages to jeopardize the development of existing agronomic solutions put forward in its own Farm to Fork strategy to make room in agriculture and food production for genetic modification technologies with at track record of unfulfilled promises”, said Eric Gall, Policy Manager at IFOAM Organics Europe. He continued that “It would be irresponsible for Member States to throw years of policy-making out the window to ensure transparency and traceability on the use of GMOs on the basis of a Commission study purely based on assumptions on the ‘potential benefits to society’ of new genetic engineering technologies and their contribution to the Farm to Fork strategy’s objectives.”
Promises of producers to use the technology to create alternatives to pesticide-tolerant crops should be treated with caution, as is shown by the fact that the first application in the EU for approval of a CRISPR/Cas plant is a herbicide-resistant maize [ii]. Furthermore, mere promises of expected benefits do not justify a weakening of the EU’s standards with regard to environmental protection and farmers’ and consumers’ choice. Safety checks for new genetic engineering techniques are essential, as a proper risk assessment is necessary to assess the potential risk to health and the environment of a particular genome-edited crop on a case-by-case basis.
Rather than depending on and hoping for silver bullet solutions such as GM crops, the Commission’s focus should be on upscaling concrete and well-defined agroecological practices with proven benefits for biodiversity and soil quality. Organic farming is already implementing a wide range of practices to make our food and farming systems more resilient to pests and diverse environmental conditions, as well as extreme weather events linked to climate change while reducing the dependency on synthetic pesticides.
[i] According to the European Council (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32019D1904&from=EN), new genomic techniques [new mutagenesis techniques] must be defined in the light of the ECJ ruling in case C-528/16. They therefore include all genetic modification techniques “which appeared or were mostly developed since Directive 2001/18 was adopted” (para 51 of the Ruling of the European Court of Justice, 25 July 2018, Case C 528/16, http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=204387&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=709582).
The ECJ ruling states that “the risks linked to the use of those new techniques/methods of mutagenesis might prove to be similar to those which result from the production and release of a GMO through transgenesis. It thus follows from the material before the Court, first, that the direct modification of the genetic material of an organism through mutagenesis makes it possible to obtain the same effects as the introduction of a foreign gene into that organism and, secondly, that the development of those new techniques/methods makes it possible to produce genetically modified varieties at a rate and in quantities quite unlike those resulting from the application of conventional methods of random mutagenesis.“ (para. 48 of ECJ ruling quoted in note [i])[ii] https://www.testbiotech.org/content/application-authorisation-maize-dp915635-pioneer
4. The European Commission wants to change GMO legislation after refusing to properly harmonise and apply it
European Coordination Via Campesina, 29 Apr 2021
The European Commission today published a study, commissioned by the Council of the EU, on "new genomic techniques", in which it suggests that current GMO legislation is not "adapted to the scientific and technological progress" of new genetic modification techniques. ECVC denounces this attempt by the European Commission to cover up its inaction on the implementation of the current GMO legislation, and also denounces the considerable influence of agribusiness lobbies on the results of this study.
Since the publication of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) ruling on 25 July 2018, which confirmed that all new GMOs must be subject to the provisions of the regulation, the Commission has stubbornly refused to harmonise the application of the law in all EU countries. The harmonisation of the single market is one of the first tasks. In order to justify this position, the Commission is now proposing to amend these regulations so that it is no longer required to apply them.
Echoing the voice of industrial lobbies, the Commission lists the same unfulfilled promises that were made twenty years ago to promote transgenic GMOs: less pesticides, higher yields, adaptation to climate change. 90% of the patents requested on new GMOs, however, concern pesticide plants that have been modified to be herbicide tolerant. While the Commission claims today that new genetic modification techniques have the potential to "contribute to a more sustainable food system in the framework of the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy", ECVC reiterates that only farmer-based agroecology can provide abundant harvests that are resilient in the face of climate change while at the same time stopping the use of pesticides, which will never be possible through the modification of a few genes.
The Commission also claims that the current regulation is not applicable because it is not possible to distinguish these modified versions from traditionally bred plants. Yet the European Union is the champion of traceability, at present being able to label many quality products that cannot be distinguished by genetic analysis (PDO, free-range farming, etc.).
In addition, genetic techniques can distinguish any plant or animal propagated in the laboratory by culturing and then regenerating their cells in vitro, cultures that are essential for all genetic modification techniques developed today. These in vitro cell cultures generate multiple unintended genetic modifications that never occur naturally. This is undoubtedly why the European Commission has discreetly modified the request of the European Council, which asked it to apply the CJEU ruling. Indeed, while the CJEU confirms that all genetic modification techniques that appeared or were mainly developed before 2001 fall within the scope of the regulation, the Commission has removed the term "mainly" and is only interested in techniques that appeared after 2001. This allows it to exclude in vitro cell cultures along with all other techniques that appeared shortly before 2001 but mainly developed after that date, such as transgenesis, the regulation of which is not disputed.
The European Commission has announced the opening of a public consultation to explore policy options in the coming months. For ECVC, the Commission must quickly review its message in order to open a public debate based on facts and not mistruths.
In order to guarantee the right of farmers to freely choose and to have transparent access to information about the crops they grow, in addition to guaranteeing the right of citizens to know what kind of products end up on their plates, ECVC opposes any modification of the current European regulation. We reject the appropriation of the food chain by a handful of multinationals as a result of the patents they register on these GMOs. For this reason, and by virtue of the precautionary principle, all GMOs must remain regulated by EU GMO law, as confirmed by the Court of Justice of the European Union in its judgment of 25 July 2018.