Bananas that do not go brown: MEPs accused of scrapping rules on new GMOs

European Parliament votes for simpler process on new genomic techniques plants, and stronger labelling and traceability

MEPs have voted for a simpler process for New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) plants which alter the genetic material of an organism, with 307 votes to 263 and 41 abstentions.

All Maltese MEPs voted in favour, despite a split inside the socialists grouping and a few EPP outliers who did not back the proposed laws.

The objective, MEPs said, is to make the food system more sustainable and resilient by developing improved plant varieties that are climate resilient, pest resistant, and give higher yields or that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides.

The European Food Safety Authority has evaluated potential safety issues of NGTs. Several NGT products are already or in the process of becoming available on the market outside the EU – for example bananas in the Philippines that do not go brown, with the potential to reduce food waste and CO2 emissions.

Currently, all plants obtained by NGTs are subject to the same rules as genetically modified organism (GMOs). MEPs voted to have two different categories and two sets of rules for NGT plants: NGT 1 plants, considered equivalent to conventional ones, would be exempted from the requirements of the GMO legislation, whereas NGT 2 plants would still have to follow stricter requirements. MEPs want to keep mandatory labelling of products from both NGT 1 and NGT 2 plants.

MEPs also said all NGT plants should remain prohibited in organic production as their compatibility requires further consideration and want the Commission to report on how consumers and producers’ perception of the new techniques is evolving, seven years after its entry into force.

MEPs also called for a full ban on patents for all NGT plants, plant material, parts, genetic information and process features they contain, to avoid legal uncertainties, increased costs and new dependencies for farmers and breeders.

“NGTs are crucial to strengthen Europe’s food security and to green our agricultural production,” said Swedish MEP Jessica Polfjärd (EPP).

“The new rules will allow the development of improved plant varieties that can ensure higher yields, be climate resistant or which require fewer fertilisers and pesticides. I hope member states will soon adopt their position so we can adopt the new rules before the European elections and give the farmers the tools they need for the green transition.”

Campaigners at Corporate Europe Observatory said the MEPs’ vote was a handout to the biotech industry.

The draft law scraps safety assessments for most new GMOs, with an Annex I list of deregulated plants that CEO said “had scientific logic”.

CEO also said MEPs had failed to ensure that organic and GM-free farmers will not bear the costs of NGT deregulation if this proposal goes ahead. “If the law goes ahead in this form, the EU would even be non-compliant with the UN Biosafety Protocol.  All of this means a real setback for a better food system as aimed for by the Farm to Fork Strategy.” 

Nina Holland, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory, said: “Most MEPs have voted to scrap any safety measures on new GMOs, which is a real setback for a better food system. This would only serve the interests of corporations like Bayer and Syngenta, who have pushed for this for many years. These corporations aim to squeeze out farmers further with expensive patented seeds.”

She said the few silver linings are that the EP voted in favour of mandatory consumer labelling of NGT products, a basic form of traceability and a safeguard clause for when safety issues arise. “Labelling and traceability are key demands by GM-free farmers, consumers and environmental groups.” 

EU countries still have no agreement on the text, with many having serious concerns about the implications of patented GM seeds for farmers,. A position from the Council of ministers is still expected before trilogue negotiations could start. 


Organic farmers lobby

IFOAM Organics Europe said the outcome was a step backwards in terms of biosafety and freedom of choice for consumers, but MEPs had safeguarded some minimum transparency requirements and re-integrated traceability provisions to ensure the freedom of farmers not to use genetic engineering.  

 “A majority of MEPs voted in favour of weakening biosafety requirements for NGTs but also to maintain traceability of NGTs all along the production and the possibility for national coexistence measures to protect organic agriculture”, said Jan Plagge, president of IFOAM Organics Europe, after the vote.

Organic producers count on member states in the Council to secure their right to take traceability and national coexistence measures to ensure the freedom of farmers, food producers and consumers not to use genetic engineering techniques.

MEPs also acknowledged that patents on seeds are a threat to the European breeding sector and sent a clear message that patents protection should not extend to genetic material that can also be obtained by conventional breeding.  “Today’s vote by MEPs is full of contradiction as it acknowledges some major issues associated to NGTs deregulation but fails to provide concrete solutions and would leave farmers and breeders exposed to corporate takeover of genetic resources through patents,” Plagge said.

IFOAM said the French food safety authority had disregarded the lack of scientific basis to deregulate some of these novel genomic techniques. “National governments should first provide a legal solution to protect breeders and farmers from patents, and to protect the integrity of organic and conventional GMO-free production, before moving ahead with weakening biosafety requirements,” Plagge warned.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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