Demeter and Bioland say strong regulation for new GMOs, including traceability and labelling, must be guaranteed
The EU Environment Council is meeting in Brussels on Thursday. On the agenda is the topic of new genetic engineering in agriculture and its effects on ecosystems. The organic farming associations Bioland and Demeter are taking the discussion as an opportunity to warn once again of the consequences of deregulating new genetic engineering in EU GMO law.
The EU Commission intends to present a legislative proposal on "new genomic techniques" (NGT) in 2023, which will allow the marketing and deliberate release into the environment of plants created using new genetic engineering without comprehensive precautionary measures. This is not only a problem for organic farmers. At stake is whether GMO-free cultivation will be possible at all in the future.
In order to ensure the coexistence of different cultivation methods and freedom of choice for consumers, binding regulations are still needed, emphasise Bioland and Demeter. These must guarantee traceability and clear labelling – for farmers and consumers alike – of products produced with new genetic engineering. In this discussion, the German government must now take a clear position in favour of keeping new genetic engineering strictly regulated.
Bioland President Jan Plagge said, "The Ministry of the Environment has rightly spoken out in favour of precautionary regulation of new genetic engineering. This clear position is lacking from the German government, even though Chancellor Scholz promised during the election campaign to oppose deregulation. The longer Germany fails to take a clear position in Brussels, the more likely it is that the genetic engineering industry will be given a free pass, for which it has been lobbying massively in all institutions in Brussels for months. The champagne in the corporate headquarters is probably already chilling for this."
Plagge continued, "After all, deregulation of new genomic techniques would also lead to these large companies selling patent rights at the smallest levels. The unfounded fear of being left behind by the world market therefore actually leads to becoming even more dependent - on patents and technologies that have already proven to be harmful to the environment in the past and whose supposedly simple and quick solutions are empty promises. Long-term ecological risks are not taken into account."
Demeter board member Alexander Gerber said, "It is clear that organic farming is needed to achieve the sustainability goals of the Green Deal, because organic farms promote biodiversity, climate protection and clean groundwater. That is why the German government has set itself a target of 30 percent organic farming - in the EU, the 25 percent target applies. To achieve this, a fair legal framework is needed. However, the deregulation of new genetic engineering planned here would be a serious blow for organic agriculture."
Gerber continued, "Allowing the release of genetically modified plants without risk assessment and without traceability means a high risk of contamination - and thus economic risks and costs for organic farms. The precautionary principle applies in EU environmental legislation - this must continue to be applied to new genetic technologies. The environmental impact assessment must include consideration of the type of agriculture that will be promoted by this new legislation - the deregulation intended by the EU Commission is detrimental to sustainability goals in agriculture."
Sound impact assessment needed before political decision
The new genetic engineering methods have so far been regulated by EU genetic engineering law based on the precautionary principle and are thus subject to risk assessment, approval and labelling requirements, as well as the principle that retrievability from the environment must be guaranteed. However, the EU Commission now wants to regulate the new genetic technologies in a new law outside the established genetic engineering law, thus opening up numerous uncertainties.
In October 2022, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published criteria for a risk assessment of plants obtained by mutagenesis or cisgenesis on behalf of the European Commission. But the impact on ecosystems was considered only very vaguely. Especially with regard to environmental impact assessment, many questions remain unanswered. EFSA itself stated at the time that many aspects need to be further developed and defined before the risk assessment criteria could be applied.
For the organic farming associations Bioland and Demeter, this is not a suitable basis for deciding on a possible deregulation of new GM techniques at the political level. They therefore call for a well-founded impact assessment of what effects new genetic engineering would have on resilient farming systems and ecosystems. At this stage, they say, too many questions remain unanswered: ecological risks as well as questions of patents and coexistence. Deregulation of genetic engineering law would also counteract European and national organic farming expansion goals, the two associations said.
About the Bioland Association
Bioland is the most important association for organic agriculture in Germany and South Tyrol. Around 10,000 farms from production, manufacturing and trade operate according to Bioland guidelines. Together they form a community of values for the benefit of people and the environment.
About Demeter e.V.
Demeter stands for consistent organic food produced in harmony with nature. Since 1924, farmers have practised biodynamic agriculture, which promotes a living circular economy and is therefore a pioneer in sustainability.
Source: Bioland and Demeter Germany