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New Genetic Technologies: Deregulation postponed

The Belgian EU Council Presidency will also not be able to finalise the EU's new genetic technology legislation in the current legislative period. This provides valuable time for all those who see major risks in the proposals to deregulate new genetic technologies (NGT). Their criticism of the draft law is backed up by new scientific findings in the form of a comprehensive report by the French state environmental and health authority Anses, which was kept under lock for a long time. In addition, the EU-funded research projects Darwin and Detective will develop methods for detecting NGT and thus refute the argument that new genetic engineering methods are not detectable and are therefore identical to classically bred plants.


Any genetic modification, regardless of the method used, is considered genetic engineering and must be regulated. This is not only demanded by organic organisations such as IFOAM Europe.


No agreement in the Agriculture Council

As several member states continue to have major objections to various points of the proposed legislation, the Agriculture Council was unable to reach an agreement on the new genetic engineering dossier at a further meeting. According to Euraktiv, Belgian Agriculture Minister David Clarinval confirmed in a meeting on 26 March 2024 that there is no longer enough time in this legislative period to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, the Belgian said that they wanted to continue working on finding common ground. The Spanish EU Council Presidency already failed with its plan to push through a new GMO law due to the blocking minority of some member states and their critical concerns regarding the potential risks of GMOs for health and the environment, traceability and labelling as well as the patent issue.


Anses report highlights the risks of NGTs

At the beginning of the year, the French state environmental and health authority Anses clarified in a comprehensive report that interventions in the genome with the new genetic engineering methods carry risks on many levels and that therefore, like existing GMOs, genetically modified organisms must be regulated, labelled and controlled. Among other things, Anses concludes that, in addition to the intended changes, unintended changes can also occur in the characteristics of the plants and their composition. According to the scientists, effects on the food produced from them, such as altered allergenicity or toxicity, are possible. The German Federal Environment Agency had also already criticised the EU Commission's draft on deregulation and questioned the criteria for classifying genetically modified plants. The EU Commission's draft law assumes that most genetically modified plants (category N1, 95%) pose no greater risks to health and the environment than conventionally bred plants and therefore require neither risk assessment nor labelling.


Critical results of Anses were withheld until after the vote

The Anses report commissioned by the French government was already available at the beginning of the year and was intended to inform parliamentarians before the vote on 7 February. However, the report was withheld until after the vote, which then came to light through media reports. Now the findings critical of the NGT are to be presented to Parliament. It is to be expected that the report will make some parliamentarians think again, who have so far been in favour of removing all safety mechanisms for NGT. The tenor of the Anses report is that the risks of NGTs must not be underestimated, the precautionary principle must not be abandoned, freedom of choice must be maintained through labelling and traceability must be guaranteed. Practically at the same time as the Anses report was published, EU President Roberta Metsola issued a mandate to the NGT-friendly European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to review and assess the Anses report.


European research projects on detection methods

Two EU-funded research projects will also provide further impetus to the debate on new genetic engineering methods and their regulation. The European and international interdisciplinary teams of the DARWIN and DETECTIVE projects are working on new genetic engineering technologies (NGT). They have a total budget of 11 million euros to develop several NGT detection methods, traceability and labelling solutions by 2027. IFOAM Organics Europe and the VLOG association for food without genetic engineering are also contributing their expertise to the Darwin consortium with a total of 15 project partners. Using appropriate detection methods to prove that GMOs are also genetic engineering and must be regulated and labelled accordingly is extremely important for both the organic and non-GMO sectors.


Author: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

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