‘New plant breeding methods should not be considered GMOs’

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Tom Merton
© GettyImages/Tom Merton

Related tags GMO plant breeding precision farming

Plant breeding innovations need to be treated differently to GMOs in order to leverage their potential to contribute to sustainability goals, said FEDIOL in a vision document for the EU agri sector released today ahead of its AGM in Brussels.

Representing the EU vegetable oil and protein meal industry, the trade group said digitalization, precision farming, and plant breeding innovation are essential to the development of smart agriculture and sustainable intensification of production.

However, FEDIOL reckons the EU’s GMO directive is no longer fit for purpose, adding that it be​lieves that plants obtained with new breeding methods should not be considered GMOs when they could also have been obtained through earlier breeding methods or resulted from spontaneous processes in nature.

Indeed, it was one of 26 European organizations that send an open letter​ to Member States last month expressing their concern over the EU Court of Justice ruling that crops resulting from innovative, targeted mutagenesis methods should be regulated under the provisions of the EU's GMO Directive.

"We are in full agreement with scientists, stakeholders and EU trade partners that it has become urgent for the EU to adapt its legislation to reflect and welcome technical progress and align it with legislation in other parts of the world. 

"Our goal is to obtain practical and science-based rules for products resulting from the latest mutagenesis methods that foster public confidence and trust. This would unlock great potential for a high-performing, innovative and diversified European bio-based solutions in sectors such as plant and animal breeding, agriculture, animal feed, food, healthcare and energy thereby contributing to Europe’s resilience to climate change, and to benefits for consumers, patients and the environment."

'Grow protein crops most suited to European climate'

Europe faces a large deficit in protein-rich crops, while global demand for protein is expected to rise substantially in the coming years, stressed FEDIOL in its manifesto. The challenge now for policymakers and industry is to strike the right balance between production of raw materials for food, feed and industrial purposes, added the trade group.

The EU should adopt coherent policies and regulations to promote the production of protein-rich crops, it said.

“The EU should look to increase production of crops that are suited to the European climate, while maintaining an effective trading system that complements domestic production. Targeted market incentives and coherent regulation will be essential in this regard.

“Production should focus on crops that already produce protein-rich products, such as rapeseed, soybean, sunflower and linseed.

“Further technological advances are needed to enhance the economic viability of cultivating specific protein crops, such as field peas, beans, pulses and lupines, which are more sensitive to certain pests and require a longer rotation to maintain yields.”

FEDIOL said it supports a comprehensive EU protein plan that would link all different EU policies with a direct or indirect connection to protein supply.

Sustainable global supply chains

It also championed the need for both public and private cooperation to tackle unsustainable production practices in value chains.

While a range of corporate initiatives such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) have been put in place to respond to challenges of deforestation, FEDIOL argues that tackling illegal deforestation requires cooperation between governments in countries of origin and in destination markets.

“With the involvement and active support of official authorities, initiatives by private actors can benefit from a multiplier effect, gain better visibility and momentum, and help deliver comprehensive and lasting results.”

Experience shows that certification alone cannot solve all sustainability issues in agriculture practices, noted the association.

“To improve its ‘forest footprint’, the EU should consider promoting even stronger cooperation with partner countries to deliver targeted results at source. As deforestation is closely correlated with economic and social development of communities, the use of bilateral agreements and development cooperation can be an effective means to support local public and private stakeholders, said the trade group.”

In contrast, FEDIOL recommends caution in regard to measures such as taxes, bans or labels: “These risk being distortive and discriminatory and, ultimately, much less effective in reducing or ever halting deforestation at source.”

Palm oil story

In a release last month, the association said that at the end of 2018, 66% of the 3.7 million tons of palm oil getting into the European refining plants of FEDIOL companies, were certified sustainable - a slight increase compared to last year’s levels.

FEDIOL joined the industry commitment in Amsterdam at the end of 2015 to support the uptake of sustainable palm oil and their fractions with a view to achieving 100% by 2020. It said the statistics show that virtually all palm oil and palm kernel oil used by FEDIOL members is traceable back to the mill and, in certain cases, even to the farm.

“These traceable volumes are not necessarily certified sustainable, but they represent a necessary starting point towards the transition to full sustainability in the palm oil supply chain.”

However, FEDIOL noted that strong campaigning against palm oil has slowed down the supply chain transformation and discouraged engaged market actors, contributing to the lack of appropriate demand for sustainable products.

“Therefore, further efforts will be needed across the supply chain to cover the remaining 34% of palm oil that is not yet certified and meet the 2020 objective.”​ 

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