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NGT deregulation: undemocratic, unscientific and against the precautionary principle

There is a lot to lose and nothing to gain from the deregulation of genetic engineering! A broad alliance of companies (organic and conventional) along the value chain agree on this. The resistance to the EU Commission's plans is supported by associations and NGOs, by the Greens in the EU Parliament and scientists, as well as by the majority of European consumers, who continue to want GMO labelling and thus freedom of choice. While the Spanish EU Council Presidency is stepping up the pace and wants to push through the deregulation as quickly as possible, IFOAM EU is calling on political decision-makers to respect the organic movement's rejection of GMOs, while the food trade, scientists and NGOs are appealing to the EU bodies and calling for the deregulation to be rejected.

The Spanish EU Presidency has confirmed its decision to reach an agreement in the Council of Ministers on 10 and 11 December. This was announced today by IFOAM EU President Jan Plagge during an online press conference. The European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development is expected to vote on its opinion in the week of 11 December. Negotiations on compromise amendments have started in the Parliament's Environment Committee and the rapporteur intends to vote in committee on 11 January. A vote in Parliament's plenary session is scheduled for just one week later, around 15 January, according to the current timetable.

Press conference IFOAM EU on 30.11.2023

Jan Plagge, President of IFOAM Organics Europe, calls on Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and Member States to respect the decision of organic farmers and companies not to use novel genomic techniques (NGTs). Bernard Lignon, board member of IFOAM Organics Europe and industry representative for processing and trade, called on policymakers to include full traceability of the use of NGTs in the production chain and the possibility of coexistence measures at the national level in the legislative proposal.

We call on MEPs and Member States to ensure the traceability of NGTs along the entire production chain and to give Member States and regions the possibility to take coexistence measures to protect conventional and organic farms from pollen drift and contamination.

Bernard Lignon, board member of IFOAM Organics Europe and industry representative for processing and trade

Appeal from the food trade to the EU Commission and EU Parliament

Meanwhile, opponents of genetic engineering from all sides are increasing their resistance and pressure on the EU bodies to prevent deregulation and are putting forward compelling arguments:

- The deregulation proposal makes authorisation and placing on the market non-transparent and thus contradicts any consumer protection.

- Organic farming and GMO-free agriculture - both important markets in the EU - will be made more difficult or impossible.

This is not only feared by organic farming organisations. In a joint open letter to the EU Commission and the European Parliament, the Rewe Group (including the food markets Rewe, Penny and Billa in Germany, Austria and other European countries), Tegut, Denn's BioMarkt and, in Austria, Hofer, Spar, UniGruppe (with Unimarkt, Nah & Frisch and Land lebt auf), Sutterlüty Ländlemarkt and the Austrian Trade Association appeal to ensure freedom of choice, "Ohne Gentechnik" and organic farming and stable food prices in the planned new GMO regulation.

"The EU Commission and MEPs must take this urgent and unusually vocal appeal from the food trade seriously. The deregulation planned so far would massively violate the interests of the economy and consumers. The threat of food price increases has hardly been recognised so far - but this must happen before such far-reaching laws are passed."

Alexander Hissting, Managing Director of the Verband Lebensmittel ohne Gentechnik e.V. (VLOG).

Scientists point out risks and undemocratic processes

In an open letter, more than 70 scientists from all over Europe emphasise their massive concerns, refute the Commission's arguments and call for the rejection of the Commission's proposal, which is in direct contradiction to the opinion of a large majority of European citizens (IPSOS survey).

+ The proposal only serves the short-term interests of the agrochemical industry and not the citizens' right to a healthy environment or the farmers' right to seeds.

+ The Commission disregards citizens' petitions, warnings from concerned molecular biologists and objections from environmental and agricultural non-governmental organisations, organic farming and farmers' organisations such as La Via Campesina.

+ Rather, the Commission relied on three flawed lines of reasoning inspired by the arguments of the agrochemical lobby:

+ New GMOs are not different from conventional crops, so they do not require the same safety measurements or labelling as older generations of genetically modified crops.

> Scientists disagree and show that even a limited number of gene modifications by NGTs can lead to radical changes in the respective organisms (plants), including unexpected changes at other than the intended sites in the genome.

Independent scientists have stated that there is no scientific reason to exclude new GMOs from the safety tests required under current legislation.

+ The Commission argues that Europe needs to deregulate these high-risk technologies to keep its biotechnology and engineering sector globally competitive.

> The scientists' letter warns that this strategy represents a "race to the bottom" in which even minimal health, environmental and social concerns are sidelined in a logic of hyper-liberalisation and deregulation.

+ New GMOs are being sold with the promise that they will help farmers adapt to climate change.

> However, the scientists point out that similar promises about the alleged benefits of previous generations of GMOs have never materialised. Instead, the system of GMO patents has further strengthened concentration in the food industry, contributed to the increased use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and undermined the position of small, subsistence and organic farmers. If the proposal were to come into force, these farmers would only be put under more pressure. Organic farmers would find it difficult to keep their fields GMO-free. Furthermore, the scientists point out that climate-resilient agriculture cannot be achieved by editing genes, but must be tackled on a systemic level.

The scientists call for the proposal to be rejected as it will contribute neither to sustainability goals nor to climate-resilient agricultural systems. On an economic level, it will only strengthen the agrochemical industry, while posing potential risks to human health and the environment and further destabilising the livelihoods of small and organic farmers. In addition, it would undermine the ability of citizens to choose GMO-free food, as the lack of labelling and traceability would make it impossible to determine whether a product is actually genetically modified or not.

From the open letter from scientists

The regulations in the Commission's proposal also pose a considerable risk to biodiversity if genetically modified organisms are released onto fields and into the environment without risk assessment. A legal opinion makes it clear that this proposal contradicts the European treaties and violates the precautionary principle.

Summary of statements and press releases of different sources

by Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

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