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Open letter to EPP: Genetic engineering labelling must remain

In just a few weeks, another vote on the deregulation of genetic engineering will take place in Brussels, on 24 January 2024 in the Environment Committee and at the beginning of February in the EU Parliament. After no majority was achieved in the vote of the agriculture ministers in December and there have already been initiatives from scientists, associations and the food trade, leading companies in the German food industry (organic and conventional) are now addressing an open letter to Manfred Weber, the deputy chairman of the CSU and group leader of the conservative EPP group in the European Parliament. The EPP has a key role: its rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd has introduced a draft that aims to deregulate genetic engineering even more than the EU Commission. The first signatories of the open letter are appealing for further supporters, as transparency and freedom of choice for food, the coexistence of cultivation systems and fair competition are at stake.

Leading German food companies appeal to EPP Group Chairman Weber (photo EPP Group) to fundamentally revise the deregulation draft.

EPP must fulfil its responsibility

Under the leadership of ENGA (European Non-GMO Association) and VLOG (Verband Lebensmittel Ohne Gentechnik), the Open Letter initiative of the companies Alb-Gold, Alnatura, Andechser, dm and Frosta was presented at a press conference today. Once again, the precarious situation for all companies that produce and manufacture organic food and food without genetic engineering and the devastating effects if the current position of the EU Agriculture Committee receives a majority in the trialogue and the subsequent vote were presented.

Jan Plagge, President of Bioland and IFOAM EU, explained the situation: "The proposals of EPP rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd prevent coexistence and freedom of choice. In practice, the coexistence of agriculture with and without genetic engineering can only work if there is a labelling obligation for all so-called new genetic engineering methods - right up to the end product, the food. However, the current position of the EU Committee on Agriculture no longer provides for any labelling obligation, not even for seeds, and no coexistence rules for cultivation methods with and without genetic engineering. The EPP in particular, i.e. the CDU/CSU, must fulfil its responsibility here and urgently make improvements in the EU Parliament." The current Belgian Council Presidency has given high priority to the "deregulation project" and wants to bring about a decision in the first quarter of the year.

Manfred Weber appears to be close to the people and supports the current farmers' protests. He should be aware that many of these farmers are very sceptical about genetic engineering. (Source: x Twitter)

The EU's rapid pace cannot do justice to the issue

The rapid pace at which a new law on the deregulation of new genetic engineering is being pushed through at the EU level lacks diligence, responsibility and the necessary precautionary principle. A legislative proposal that sets standards for the organisation of agriculture and food production in the EU should not be rushed through, says Martin Häusling, agricultural policy spokesperson for the Greens in the European Parliament, member of the Environment and Health Committee and lead negotiator for the Greens in the European Parliament. He comments:

"The haste with which a proposal by the EU Commission to exclude new genetic engineering processes from genetic engineering legislation is currently being dealt with at EU level is completely inappropriate to the relevance of the issue and grossly negligent. The first working meeting of the negotiating team took place in the European Parliament on 24 November, and next week the bag is to be closed and the position put to the vote in the responsible environment committee on 24 January. Just seven weeks - including the Christmas break - cannot do justice to the topic, it is far too complex, technical and multi-layered for that." In addition, the EPP rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd is doing little or nothing to address the concerns of other political groups.

Deregulation contradicts the principles of responsible politics

Alnatura founder Prof. Dr Götz E. Rehn emphasised: "Extensive deregulation of genetic engineering law contradicts the principles of a balanced and responsible policy, both for consumers and for nature. Over 90 per cent of customers demand comprehensive safety testing for genetically modified plants and mandatory labelling of genetically modified food. The use of genetic engineering in food must be declared. This is the only way to ensure 'freedom of choice through transparency' when buying food. The EPP even wants to authorise the new genetic engineering for organic food. This is rightly prohibited under the EU Organic Regulation and we consistently reject it."

Screenshot Online Press Conference (Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International)

Felix Ahlers, CEO of FRoSTA AG, emphasised that it is also about fair and lively competition and that companies must differentiate themselves through quality. "FRoSTA has stood for maximum transparency for over 20 years. Everyone should be able to understand whether food has been produced with or without genetic engineering so that they can decide accordingly. Only then can food manufacturers and farmers differentiate themselves. A transparent declaration on the packaging prescribed by the legislator would be the right way forward."

dm-Drogeriemarkt is also clearly opposed to the deregulation of genetic engineering. Kerstin Erbe, dm: "At dm, it is important to us that people remain free to choose whether we want to produce and consume genetically modified food. It's about our nutrition, about what we feed our bodies every day. Even if genetic engineering processes are more precise today than in the past, there are still risks that need to be considered and managed. We need clear labelling as a basis for decision-making."

The stakes are high

If the EPP prevails, more than 90% of seeds, plants and products produced with new genetic engineering will be placed on the market in future without risk assessment, labelling and traceability, warns Martin Häusling. This would torpedo GMO-free agriculture and trade and deprive consumers of their freedom of choice to buy and consume GMO-free products. Not to mention the potential risks to ecosystems and health. Various expert reports have shown that the proposal violates the precautionary principle and is legally questionable. It is therefore important to take action against this deregulation at all levels in the coming days and weeks, said Häusling.

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) are supporting the companies in their initiative for freedom of choice when it comes to genetic engineering in food. Other companies are cordially invited to support the initiative and sign the open letter

The first signatories of the open letter are

  • Felix Ahlers, Vorstandsvorsitzender, FRoSTA AG

  • Kerstin Erbe, Geschäftsführerin Ressort Produktmanagement, dm-drogerie markt GmbH + Co. KG

  • Irmgard Freidler, Geschäftsführerin, ALB-GOLD Teigwaren GmbH

  • Prof. Dr. Götz E. Rehn, Gründer und Geschäftsführer, Alnatura Produktions- und Handels GmbH

  • Barbara Scheitz, Geschäftsführerin, Andechser Molkerei Scheitz GmbH

Author: Karin Heinze, BiO Reporter International

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