MEPs support new rules for some NGT plants

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/artJazz
© GettyImages/artJazz

Related tags new genomic techniques ENVI Committee GMO

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee has voted in favor of the new proposal on New Genomic Techniques (NGTs).

NGTs are a variety of techniques that alter the genetic material of an organism.

The Committee on Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety (ENVI) on Wednesday adopted its position on the EU Commission’s proposal​ on New Genomic Techniques (NGT), with 47 votes to 31 and 4 abstentions.

MEPs agree with the proposal to have two distinct categories and two sets of rules for NGT plants. NGT plants considered equivalent to conventional ones (NGT 1 plants) would be exempted from the requirements of the GMO legislation, whereas for NGT 2 plants, the MEPs agree to maintain GMO legislation requirements, including mandatory labelling of products.

While there would be no mandatory labelling at consumer level for NGT 1 plants, the committee members want the Commission to report on how consumers and producers’ perception of the new techniques is evolving, seven years after entry into force.

The lawmakers also amended the proposal to introduce a full ban on patents for all NGT plants, plant material, parts thereof, genetic information and process features they contain, to avoid legal uncertainties, increased costs and new dependencies for farmers and breeders.

After the vote, rapporteur, Jessica Polfjärd, said: “This proposal is critical for strengthening Europe's food safety in a sustainable manner. We finally have a chance to implement rules that embrace innovation and I look forward to concluding negotiations in the Parliament and with the Council as soon as possible.”

‘A significant step’

Euroseeds, an organization representing the totality of the European seed industry active in research, breeding, production, and marketing of seeds, called the committee’s backing “a significant step” towards enabling plant breeding innovation to contribute to a sustainable EU agriculture and food system.

It argues that the proposal introduces a new regulatory framework, distinguishing NGTs like targeted mutagenesis and cis-genesis from transgenic GMOs. Under the proposed regime, NGT plants would be regulated more akin to those derived from traditional breeding methods.

Garlich von Essen, Euroseeds secretary general said the vote “sends an important signal to Europe’s breeders, farmers, and citizens. Driving sustainability goes hand in hand with the need to support and enable innovation.”

Copa and Cogeca, the EU farming lobby, also welcome the vote.

Many unresolved issues loom large’

Not all stakeholders were as ebullient. Jan Plagge, president of IFOAM Organics Europe, commenting after the vote, said: “This rushed legislative process to deregulate NGTs goes against the interest of European breeders, farmers, and citizens. Today’s vote by MEPs in the Environment committee leaves too many issues about risks, patents and the right of farmers and consumers to avoid NGTs, unsolved. Instead of rushing into a plenary vote, MEPs should properly discuss how to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from risks associated to NGTs.”

And Nina Holland of Corporate Europe Observatory warned: "Too many MEPs chose to ignore independent science on the risks of a mass roll out of new GM crops without sufficient safety checks, consumer labelling, traceability or liability rules. This is backsliding of environmental and health protection, just to please some big businesses."

Heike Moldenhauer, secretary general of non-GMO industry association, ENGA, also expressed the concerns of that sector:

“With the majority of conservatives, right wing parties and liberals voting in favor of this legislation, the MEPs on the ENVI Committee have totally ignored the wishes of both citizens and the food industry. Clearly won over by big agri/biotech lobbying, they have completely disregarded the desire of consumers and the food sector to know what they are buying and when there are GMOs in their food. This proposal is quite clearly not ready to be voted on in the plenary of the European Parliament; too many critical questions, with far reaching consequences, have not been solved. Therefore, we call on MEPs to postpone the February vote and take the much-needed time for proper debate and understanding of the scientific issues.”

Next steps

The draft law must be approved after trilogue between Council, Commission and Parliament.

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