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UPDATE: Vote in the EU Environment Committee: Majority in favor of deregulation - EU Parliament not bound by vote

Updated: Jan 25

In the vote on 24.1.2024, the majority of members of the Environment Committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament (EP) voted against labelling, risk assessment and coexistence rules for most new genetically engineered plants. This is disappointing and irresponsible, as there are good arguments on the table for maintaining the proven genetic engineering legislation for NGTs. It is now up to the Members of the European Parliament to form their own opinion and vote against deregulation at the beginning of February. Even among the EU member states, there is not yet a majority in favour of genetic engineering deregulation.

After the vote in the Environment Committee (ENVI) (screenshot of the live stream)

Disaster for the environment and consumer protection

Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament and member of the Environment and Health Committee as well as lead negotiator for the Greens/EFA in the Environment Committee, commented on the vote on the draft on new genetic engineering in plants: "The result is a medium-sized disaster for the environment and consumer protection. The majority of MEPs in the committee today voted against further strict regulation of new genetic engineering. In my view, this is inappropriate and negligent! They are ignoring the risk assessment for these varieties and the labelling of plants and foods produced using new genetic engineering. It will be impossible to trace these plants.

GMO-free cultivation - especially organic farming - will be trampled underfoot with this position.

Although the use of GMOs in organic farming is to remain prohibited, it remains to be seen how this will be dealt with if organic fields and produce are contaminated with GMOs. As things currently stand, there would be no compensation for farmers and processors who have to accept a loss of income due to contaminated goods. Only coexistence measures, such as distance regulations, are to be adopted individually by individual A.Hissting (VLOG) represents the interests of the label holders "Ohne Gentechnik. EU member states. If the outcome of the plenary vote in two weeks is the same, I see no prospect of a regulated approach to new genetic engineering in agriculture, says Häusling. Even if it is reported otherwise: the patent issue is by no means resolved with the text voted on today - the text is merely a position, which, although good, is not legally binding. An amendment to the European Patent Convention is beyond the EU's influence. The scientific basis used to trivialize genetically engineered plants is highly questionable, as several recent expert reports have shown. The precautionary principle is also being ignored. Today's vote must not be the end of this sad chapter. The plenary of the European Parliament is expected to take a position on the text on February 7. Then today's vote can and must be corrected."

Özdemir must keep his commitment to freedom of choice in genetic engineering

Alexander Hissting, Managing Director of the Association Food without Genetic Engineering (VLOG), is confident that the voices of producers, entrepreneurs and consumers for labelling and freedom of choice will be heard by MEPs. "MEPs should not be put off by this vote and form their own opinion on the vote in February. The majority in the Environment Committee was not overwhelming. It is by no means all evening yet. Among the member states, resistance to the abolition of genetic engineering labelling and coexistence measures remains stable. This is particularly true for Germany, as Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (picture left) once again confirmed during the Green Week in Berlin. Özdemir's commitment to freedom of choice and the 'no GMO' and organic economy could also convince other EU states to support his course."

200 companies call for genetic engineering labelling

EPP Chairman in the European Parliament and CSU Vice-President Manfred Weber-Weber has so far refused to engage in dialogue and does not want to speak to the companies that have written him an open letter ahead of the important vote in the EU Parliament's lead Environment Committee on 24 January 2024. In just two weeks, almost 200 companies have responded to the call for a second signing of the open letter from Alb-Gold, Alnatura, Andechser, dm and Frosta to maintain the labelling of genetically modified foods. Demands for withdrawing the previous deregulation plans have also come from many quarters: Freedom of choice must remain!

Thousands also expressed their demand for labelling and freedom of choice at the "We're fed up" demonstration on 20.1.2024 in Berlin. (Photo: WHES)

Bioland President Jan Plagge comments on the position of EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber: "It is a sign of irresponsibility to refuse to engage in talks with industry before such far-reaching decisions are made. We hope for understanding. The EPP is currently advocating a de facto ban on all coexistence measures in Europe and locally. Companies need an explanation as to where this contradictory action by the CDU and CSU is supposed to lead."

Barbara Scheitz, Managing Director of Andechser Molkerei and first signatory, also demands an answer from Brussels: "Freedom from genetic engineering is the basis of our organic farming. We live and work with nature. 'Leave natural things natural' is our mission. We need this clear commitment from Brussels."

Barbara Scheitz Managing Director of Andechser Molkerei (Photo: Andechser Molkerei)

Andreas Wenning, Minderleinsmühle explains: "We are currently seeing many initiatives that are trying to shake the foundations of organic farming's essential contribution to food security and tackling the climate crisis. There must continue to be freedom of choice for consumers. Genetic engineering labelling was created for this purpose. We must continue to rely on this in the future." Wolfgang Ahammer, VFI Oils for Life, also calls for transparency and labelling: "For us as producers who are committed to food 'without genetic engineering' and organic food, this status must be secured through a contoured approval practice and compliance with important market economy principles such as transparency at every stage of use, the burden of proof on the user and product liability."

Joseph Wilhelm, Rapunzel Naturkost: "Organic is GMO-free, always. Rapunzel has been committed to this since the early 2000s. The approval of new genetic engineering methods without labelling in Europe would be a catastrophe for organic agriculture and for organic products in general. We, therefore, call on all EU parliamentarians to vote for honest labeling of products with new genetic engineering along the entire supply chain."

Häusling's warning and demand

Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament and member of the Environment and Health Committee as well as responsible negotiator for the Greens/EFA in the Environment Committee, warns: "We cannot agree to the voting texts drawn up by the rapporteur in the turbo procedure in an unreasonably short period and inadequate consultation. If the majority of MEPs vote in favour and the plenary does not change anything, Parliament will go into negotiations with the Council of Member States and the Commission (trilogue) with a position of rapid deregulation of new genetic engineering. However, organic farming, consumer rights and the precautionary principle will then come under fire. This also threatens an entire sector of the economy. In Germany alone, 16 billion euros were generated in 2022 with conventional food labelled "without genetic engineering" and 15.3 billion euros in the organic sector."

Martin Häusling, MEP

If the bill goes through, it would be irresponsible in view of the associated risks and ignorance of considerable scientific and political concerns. The billion-dollar agricultural industry, which has lobbied massively for its business and whose texts even appear 1:1 in the rapporteur's trivializing definitions, would benefit. From a green point of view, this march through must be prevented.
Martin Häusling

Compliance with the precautionary principle and opt-out option

According to Häusling, the approval and use of new agro-genetic engineering (NGT) in the EU must be linked to certain precautions for the environment and consumers in line with the precautionary principle enshrined in the European treaties. This includes, in particular, a comprehensive risk assessment of the new plants in the approval process, their traceability and the labelling of all genetically modified plants and the products made from them. Consumers must be able to recognize which foods have been produced with new genetic engineering. Labelling and comprehensive co-existence measures must ensure that GMO-free farms and processors can remain GMO-free. In addition, there must be the option of opting out as before: EU member states that do not want to allow new genetic engineering must be able to remain GMO-free!"

The Verband Lebensmittel ohne Gentechnik (VLOG), Germany's leading organic farming association Bioland, the Association of Organic Food Producers (AöL) and the Bundesverband Naturkost Naturwaren (BNN) support the companies in their initiative for freedom of choice regarding genetic engineering in food.

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