Ministers to discuss controversial agbiotech industry-friendly Commission report which fails to follow European Court of Justice ruling
European agriculture ministers will discuss the future of a new generation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), starting tomorrow. These key discussions are the lead-up to a decision on whether or not new GMOs should be subject to safety checks or labelling before being allowed on the EU market.
On the agenda of tomorrow’s agriculture council is a study released by the European Commission in April which suggests that there are "strong indications that the current 2001 GMO legislation is not fit for purpose for some NGTs ["new genomic techniques"] and their products", and proposes a new consultation process to rewrite the laws.
Friends of the Earth Europe has been heavily critical of the Commission study, which is biased towards the biotech industry following its sustained campaign to win exemptions from safety regulations for new GMOs. The study makes unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of the new techniques based only on products in the early stages of research. Furthermore, the Commission did not follow its own guidelines in the preparation of the report.
Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said, "Ministers need to put a stop to these attempts to allow new GMOs onto our fields and plates without safety checks.
"They must not fall for the spin of the biotech industry which would have Europe tear up decades of the precautionary principle.
"Governments need to get on with the urgent business of making our farming system more sustainable by phasing out industrial farming and promoting agroecology."
Agriculture ministers will meet on May 26 and 27. They will either accept or reject the study’s recommendations, or propose their own. EU Environment ministers are expected to also debate the issue in June.
Opinion is divided between ministries and countries. The German environment minister and the Austrian government have both stated that the new generation of GMOs should continue to be regulated by existing EU GMO law. The Hungarians also favour this. The Danish and Dutch ministries supported deregulation of new GMO in their inputs to the EU Commission study.
A host of civil society groups have criticised both the methodology and the findings of the Commission study, whilst groups representing the biotech industry welcomed it.
The Commission’s study, requested in 2019 by the European Council, diverges significantly from a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling which underlined similarities in the potential risks between a new generation of GMOs and their predecessors.
 European Commission: EC study on new genomic techniques: https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/modern_biotech/new-genomic-techniques_en
What’s in the study?: The study was written in-house by the biotechnology department of the Commission and is based on: 1) Member State inputs, 2) a stakeholder consultation, 3) an opinion of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, 4) an opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and 5) two reports of the Joint Research Centre.
Commissioned by the Council: At the end of 2019, Member States requested a study on practical questions of the implementation from the ruling (Council Decision (EU) 2019/1904 on the study on new genomic techniques). The Council also requested from the EU Commission to inform about measures as a follow-up of the study or some policy options.
 Report: Green light for new GMOs? Friends of the Earth Europe analysis of the European Commission’s stakeholder consultation: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/press-release/green-light-for-new-gmos
FoE EU's assessment is that the study is biased in a number of its conclusions:
Non-industry stakeholders ignored: At crucial points, Member State and other stakeholder views have not been included in the conclusions of the European Commission study on new genomic techniques.
Divergence with European Court of Justice: The health branch of the EU Commission concludes that the current GMO legislation is not fit for purpose. The ECJ ruling, however, found that the framework can be applied to products of new GM techniques developed since the EU Directive was adopted. The Court’s criteria are clear and applicable to new GMOs. The Court’s ruling is shows the framework is fit for purpose, including to cater for scientific and technical progress.
Unsubstantiated sustainability claims: DG Sante concludes that GM crops engineered with new GM techniques can serve sustainability purposes and help to achieve objectives in the Farm to Fork Strategy, e.g. 50 percent pesticide reduction. However, there is practically no information in the study to back this up.
Friends of the Earth Europe is calling on agriculture and environment ministers to ensure that new GMOs can not be marketed without comprehensive safety checks, and to ensure labelling to give farmers and consumers the right to choose.
See also Corporate Europe Observatory’s work exposing lobby tactics to deregulate GMOS: Report: Derailing EU rules on GMOs: https://corporateeurope.org/en/2021/03/derailing-eu-rules-new-gmos
Biotech industry lobbying: Biotech companies want less regulation for GMOs and have sought to portray new GMO techniques such as gene editing and CRISPR-Cas as no different from traditional plant breeding methods – even though the techniques involve editing plant DNA, and in spite of the European Court of Justice’s ruling affirming this. The aim of their campaign is to prevent new GMOs from being labelled, and ensuring they can be grown and imported without any safety checks.
 Statement from the German environment minister: https://www.bmu.de/pressemitteilung/schulze-auch-bei-neuer-gentechnik-bestehendes-gentechnikrecht-umsetzen/
 Civil society open letter: 161 civil society organisations call on Commission Vice-President Timmermans to regulate new GMOs: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/publication/regulate-new-gmos
Statement from Slow Food: https://www.slowfood.com/press-release/european-commission-opens-the-door-to-new-gmos/
Statement from Friends of the Earth Europe: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/press-release/eu-commission-backs-removing-safety-checks-for-new-gmos/
Statement from Corporate Europe Observatory: https://corporateeurope.org/en/2021/04/european-commission-bowing-industry-lobby-campaign-new-gmos
Statement from Greenpeace: https://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/issues/nature-food/45581/eu-commission-opening-the-door-for-new-gmos/
Statement from the European Coordination Via Campesina: https://www.eurovia.org/fr/apres-avoir-refuse-dappliquer-la-loi-la-commission-europeenne-veut-la-changer-pour-camoufler-son-forfait/
Joint agri-industry statement: https://www.euroseeds.eu/news/eu-council-must-support-immediate-policy-action-on-ngts/
 The Court ruling: in 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled that existing EU GMO safety law applies to the new generation of GMOs. The court said that the new GMOs should not be excluded from EU safety and labelling rules and underlined that the potential risks posed by new GMOs: “might prove to be similar to those that result from the production and release of a GMO through transgenesis.” Under the current law, the protection of human health and the environment states that attention must be given to controlling risks from the deliberate release of GMOs (Ruling of the European Court of Justice, 25 July 2018, Case C-528/16 https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2018-07/cp180111en.pdf).
The ruling means that the new generation of GM crops and seeds should go through safety checks, an authorisation process, and be labelled before they can be placed on the market.
Read the report: Green light for new GMOs? Friends of the Earth Europe analysis of the European Commission’s flawed stakeholder consultation:
Source: Friends of the Earth Europe