NGT legislation nears completion, but feed and oilseed groups raise concerns over labeling provisions

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/ipopba
© GettyImages/ipopba

Related tags new genomic techniques gene editing labeling breeders

Progress has been achieved in advancing EU regulation concerning gene-edited plants, but there remains a need for refinement, highlight FEFAC and FEDIOL.

Those trade groups, in collaboration with COCERAL, issued a joint statement following the recent vote.

For the EU to effectively provide the farming community with New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) as a novel tool for addressing climate change and meeting the sustainability goals outlined in the Green Deal, some further tweaking of the legislative text is required, they argued.

The vote

The EU Parliament endorsed its stance on the EU Commission's NGTs proposal during this week's plenary session, securing 307 votes in favor, 263 against, and 41 abstentions. Notably, MEPs aligned with the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Renew party expressed strong support for the text, while the Greens and the Left largely opposed it, as reported​ by EurActiv. 

The Commission's legislative objective is to enhance the sustainability and resilience of the food system by developing improved plant varieties that exhibit climate resilience, pest resistance, and increased yields, while minimizing the need for fertilizers and pesticides.

Presently, NGT plants adhere to the same regulations as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). MEPs support the proposal to establish two distinct categories and sets of rules for NGT plants: NGT 1 plants, considered equivalent to conventional ones, would be exempted from GMO legislation requirements, while other NGT plants (NGT 2 plants) would still be subject to stricter regulations.

Copa and Cogeca, the influential EU agriculture lobby, view this approach as "balanced."

Spotlight on compulsory labeling 

MEPs, though, are advocating for mandatory labeling of products from both NGT 1 and NGT 2 plants, a stance contested by EU feed industry representatives, FEFAC, and the other two associations. They argue that compulsory labeling for all NGT products could jeopardize the distinction between NGTs deemed akin to conventionally bred varieties and those to be treated like GMOs, hindering technology adoption and muddling information conveyed to citizens and consumers.

MEPs also call for the Commission to report on the evolving perceptions of consumers and producers regarding these new techniques, seven years after their implementation.

Additionally, they support a ban on patents for NGT plants, plant material, genetic information, and related process features to mitigate legal uncertainties, reduce costs, and prevent new dependencies for farmers and breeders. A report on the impact of patents on access to diverse plant reproductive material is requested by June 2025, along with a legislative proposal to update EU rules on intellectual property rights accordingly.

Council told to avoid repeating past mistakes 

Following Wednesday’s vote by MEPs, Jan Plagge, president of IFOAM Organics Europe, criticized the decision for its inherent contradictions. While acknowledging major issues related to the deregulation of NGTs, the vote fell short by failing to propose concrete solutions, he said.

Plagge expressed concern that such a stance could expose farmers and breeders to the risk of corporate takeover of genetic resources through patents.

He urged the Council of Ministers to avoid repeating past mistakes of hastening discussions and overlooking the absence of a scientific basis for deregulating certain novel genomic techniques, as highlighted by the French food safety authority. He emphasized the importance of national governments prioritizing the establishment of legal measures to safeguard breeders and farmers from patents. In addition, Plagge stressed that such precautions are necessary to protect the integrity of both organic and conventional GMO-free production, urging against any move to weaken biosafety requirements without adequate protection in place.

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