Report by Informationdienst Gentechnik
The European Parliament (EP) on 7 February approved the EU Commission's draft regulation on the use of new genetic engineering techniques (NGT) in crops by a majority with numerous amendments. For example, MEPs argued in favour of labelling products containing genetically modified plants. Among the EU member states, however, there was once again no qualified majority in favour of a common position at a meeting of their permanent representatives. This means that what the Spanish Minister of Agriculture predicted in January seems to be coming true: The planned NGT regulation can no longer be passed before the European elections in June. [GMW: We caution that there are reportedly attempts in motion to push through the regulation at warp speed.]
The vote in the EP was based on a proposal by Conservative rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd, which was adopted by the lead Environment Committee on 24 January. In contrast to the proposal, Parliament included a labelling requirement for all genetically modified plants in the text of the regulation by 317 votes to 302 at the request of the Social Democrats and Greens. This means that not only the seeds of NGT plants in privileged category 1 must be labelled, but also the plants themselves and products containing or consisting of NGT 1 plants. "New genomic techniques" should then appear on the label. The relevant information must be stored and transmitted along the production chain. Parliament has thus taken into account a key demand from numerous food companies, environmental, agricultural and consumer associations, which had called for labelling as a prerequisite for freedom of choice for consumers and (agricultural) businesses.
The associations are also likely to take a positive view of the new option to revoke recognition as an NGT 1 plant if the data situation changes and unexpected risks emerge. This was not previously envisaged. Paradoxically, however, the parliamentarians have simultaneously restricted the risk assessment: While the EP Environment Committee had decided that NGT 1 plants must undergo a safety check in the laboratory before being approved, the majority of the plenary rejected this regulation. A motion that would have obliged EU member states to take appropriate measures "to avoid the unintended presence of (all, editor's note) NGT plants and parts or residues thereof in other crops and products" was also narrowly defeated by 302 votes to 306. This means that the regulation proposed by the EU Commission applies again: In the case of category 2 genetically modified plants, the member states "shall" take appropriate measures to ensure unharmed coexistence with GMO-free cultivation. The proposal to oblige producers of genetically modified plants to set up a compensation fund also failed to gain majority support.
The controversial issue of the patenting of genetically modified plants was reflected in some of the motions adopted. For example, formulations are to supplement the Biopatent Directive 98/44/EC, according to which NGT patents do not apply to natural plants with the same genetic characteristics. In cases where patentable NGT plants cannot be distinguished from natural plants, there should be no patent claim. In line with this, manufacturers who wish to register a plant for privileged category 1 should also submit information on pending patent proceedings or granted patents. The application documents should also now include a "plan for monitoring environmental effects". In total, the EP plenary today voted on more than 300 amendments to the EU Commission's NGT proposal, some of which were again amendments that had already been rejected in the environment and agriculture committees. The rapporteur's amended draft was ultimately adopted with 307 votes in favour, 263 against and 41 abstentions.
At the same time, Parliament gave the mandate to start trilogue negotiations with the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission in order to reach a final compromise between all the institutions involved.
However, the trilogue negotiations can only start once the Council of Ministers of the EU member states has also reached a common position. The Spanish Council Presidency presented a compromise proposal for this in December, but it was not supported by a qualified majority of states. The Belgian Council President, who has been in office since January, only made minor additions to the proposal: the controversial patent issue is to be dealt with by a group of experts and the request from states with small islands for an opt-out option was taken into account in the recitals. This was obviously not enough. Because at their meeting today, the permanent representatives of the member states did not signalise a qualified majority in favour of this compromise. An EU source confirmed this to Informationdienst Gentechnik on request. According to reports, 16 EU member states were in favour of the compromise, including France. However, these represented less than 60 per cent of the EU population instead of the required 65 per cent. "The Council Presidency will examine the situation and decide in the next few days how work can continue," an EU employee wrote to the information service. Observers assume that it will no longer be possible to finalise the trialogue by the end of February. According to EU sources, this would be necessary in order to be able to adopt the NGT Regulation by the last EP session of this legislative period.
Green MEP Martin Häusling called the Parliament's decision an "oath of political candour". In the interests of the agricultural industry, the way had been cleared for highly questionable regulations and a negligent approach to new genetic engineering. "The majority of conservatives (around the CDU/CSU) and liberals have today trampled on the precautionary principle," said SPD MEP Maria Noichl. With the adopted proposals, a large proportion of genetically modified and potentially environmentally harmful plants would soon be on consumers' plates without any risk assessment. German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, who had previously abstained in the Agriculture Council, sees his position confirmed: "The contradictory voting results on the handling of genetically modified plants show that there is still no viable proposal: There is still no viable proposal that does justice to the interests of agriculture, consumers and the food industry," said the Green politician. "Many key issues remain unresolved: coexistence, freedom of choice, patents. It is important that we now take our time to address these complex issues. Thoroughness takes precedence over speed."
Video on the vote on the NGT dossier in the European Parliament on 7 February 2024 (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/ en/vod.html?mode=chapter&vodLanguage=EN&internalEPId=1707306710924&providerMeetingId=ff3a426f-6d47-45e9-
European Parliament - New genomic techniques: Parliament backs rules for more sustainability (07/02/2024) (https:// www.europarl.europa.eu/news/de/press-room/20240202IPR17320/neue-genomische-techniken-parlament-befurwortet-regeln-fur- mehr- nachhaltigkeit)
European Parliament: The legislative procedure on the EU Commission's draft NGT in the EP with all documents (constantly updated) (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2024-0014_DE.html)
European Parliament: 315 amendments to the Polfjärd NGT proposal to be voted on 7 February 2024 (in all EU languages) (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/report-details.html?reference=A9-0014-2024)
Maria Noichl: Black day for consumer protection, risk prevention and agriculture (7 February 2024) (https://maria-noichl.eu/news/ schwarzer-tag-fuer-verbraucherschutz-risikovorsorge-und-landwirtschaft/)
MEP Martin Häusling - New genetic engineering in plants: political oath of revelation (07/02/2024) (https://www.martin-haeusling.eu/ presse-medien/pressemitteilungen/3100-neue-gentechnik-bei-pflanzen-politischer-offenbarungseid.html)
Infodienst - New genetic engineering: Is the trialogue about to start? (07.02.2024) (https://www.keine-gentechnik.de/nachricht/34899? cHash=5cc8baacd6cd2783d982a00a7723ee44)
Original article in German: https://www.keine-gentechnik.de/nachricht/34900