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New genetic engineering: Food industry demands labelling

At the Anuga food fair, food companies from REWE Group to Rapunzel Naturkost, together with the German Association for Food without Genetic Engineering (VLOG) and the Association of Organic Food Producers (AöL), appealed to politicians in Berlin and Brussels to maintain the current full GMO labelling. In doing so, they are clearly rejecting the EU Commission's current plan to no longer label a large part of future GM foods and to no longer subject them to risk assessment. At an event at Anuga, genetic engineering expert Heike Moldenhauer (ENGA, Brussels) explained the full extent of the deregulation plans and that there is an urgent and rapid need for action due to the EU's timetable.

Alexander Hissting, Managing Director of the German Association for Foodstuffs without Genetic Engineering (VLOG), welcomed the participants to the event at Anuga. Photo: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

Demand for labelling across the manufacturer and trade landscape

The companies and associations of both the organic and the traditional food industry will from now on jointly raise the issue of obtaining full GM labelling even more emphatically in public and vis-à-vis politicians and the government, it was said at an event within the framework of Anuga. Heike Moldenhauer of the European Non-GMO Industry Association (ENGA) stated: "Clear and complete GM labelling is a must for consumers and the economy. For the European food industry, freedom from genetic engineering is a model for success, equally for conventional and organic products". This was confirmed by Wolfgang Ahammer, Managing Director of VFI Oils for Life and Chairman of the Association of Organic Food Producers (AöL): "For us as producers who are committed to 'non-GMO' and organic food, it is important that this status is secured by a contoured authorisation practice and by adherence to important market economy principles such as transparency, burden of proof of the user and product liability".

Clear rejection of deregulation

"From REWE Group's point of view, it is also necessary in the area of new genetic engineering techniques to subject products manufactured using these techniques to an approval procedure including a risk assessment and to continue to take into account the principles of traceability, precaution and labelling."

Daniela Büchel, Member of the Management Board of REWE Group

"The EU Commission's planned relaxation of the EU law on genetic engineering is completely unacceptable for us as a producer of organic food. Rapunzel Naturkost - like all organic food producers - lives by offering customers the best organic food quality without genetic engineering. We therefore demand the regulation and labelling of New Genetic Engineering (NGT) in food as well as its traceability through the entire supply chain."

Eva Kiene, Head of Corporate Communications at Rapunzel Naturkost

The 'Ohne Gentechnik' seal has established itself alongside the organic seal in German trade - both seals guarantee freedom from genetic engineering.

NGTs get their own law: arbitrariness and the end of transparency

Heike Moldenhauer (ENGA) presented the critical details of the EU Commission's deregulation plans, the current status of the legislative process and the timetable. Directive 2001/18/EC on "old genetic engineering" remains unchanged as law (lex generalis). The new genetic techniques NGTs (targeted mutagenesis, e.g. CRISPR Cas and cisgenesis) are defined as GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and are to be regulated in a separate regulation (lex specialis). The Commission is thus planning two different legislations for genetic engineering.

94% of NGT plants fall into category 1 - adequate to "normal" plants.

Within NGTs, there are to be two categories: Category 1 NGTs are considered equivalent to plants from conventional breeding if they contain up to 20 genetic modifications. Heike Moldenhauer emphasised that the number 20 is purely arbitrary and its inclusion in the draft cannot be justified. Very large parts of the genome can be affected by 1 - 20 changes because the smallest parts of the DNA can also be deleted. "We will be dealing with complex genetic changes," says Moldenhauer. Risk assessment will no longer take place, detection procedures, traceability and coexistence rules (precautionary principle) will be abolished. Labelling will also be limited exclusively to the seed - it will be labelled as NGT category 1 plus identification number. This means: only breeders and farmers know what they are dealing with, all subsequent stages in the value chain remain ignorant. The remaining 6% of genetically modified plants are also to undergo only limited risk and safety tests.

"GM-free agriculture and food production in the EU is at stake. For all NGTs, the Commission wants member states not to be able to ban them." Heike Moldenhauer, ENGA

Heike Moldenhauer, ENGA explained the details of the EU's deregulation plans. (Photo: Karin Heinze)

Deregulation to be rushed through

The Spanish Council Presidency is pushing the pace and wants to push the issue through in the term of its presidency by the end of the year. The timetable is ambitious:

The EU Parliament, with the Environment (ENVI) and Agriculture (AGRi) Committees, is planning the following deadlines:

+ By the end of November, the draft report by Swedish MEP and rapporteur Polfjärd is to be discussed.

+ Deadline for amendments already one week later on 6.12.

+ Vote in ENVI on 24.1. 2024

+ Vote in plenary in February 2024

+ In parallel, the Agriculture Council wants to reach a common position by the end of the year.

According to Heike Moldenhauer, there are two options after the vote: A halt to the legislative process or an attempt to conclude the process by the end of April - before the European elections. Should there be a qualified majority in favour of deregulation, i.e. new genetic engineering legislation, experts believe that legal proceedings are promising, especially since the European Court of Justice has already established that NGT is genetic engineering and that corresponding measures as well as labelling follow from this.

"It is central that in relation to NGTs, the polluter pays principle, liability of producers and the associated transparency are secured to ensure functionality in the market economy and coexistence of different forms of production." Brunhard Kehl, Association of Organic Food Producers (AöL)

Brunhard Kehl, Assoziation ökologischer Lebensmittelhersteller (AöL). (Foto: Karin Heinze)

Sustainability - an empty promise

The Commission's most powerful argument is the alleged sustainability of NGT products. The seed companies and Gentec proponents promise that plant breeding with NGTs can produce climate-adapted plants and stop the loss of biodiversity - but they do not provide any evidence for this. In the view of many experts and scientists, these are empty promises and cannot be proven. Proof of the sustainability of products from NGTs is not even asked for in the application procedure in the planned new regulations.

"The EU Commission is preparing to destroy sustainable corporate values on an enormous scale and to shake consumer confidence in politics and the food industry. This must not happen!" Alexander Hissting, Association for Food without Genetic Engineering (VLOG)
"The organic food industry is demonstrably the most innovative concept for a sustainable food economy. In order to really secure people's freedom of choice and trust, it is essential for us that new genomic techniques are also labelled as genetic engineering." Arlend Huober, co-managing director at Huober Brezel

Picture: Major players in the food industry such as the REWE Group have also spoken out against deregulation at anuga.

Photo: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

Author: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

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