"EU must stop wasting time trying to find loopholes to allow these new GMOs onto our fields and plates" – Mute Schimpf, Friends of the Earth Europe
On Friday April 30 2021, the European Commission will publish a study which will have a key influence over whether or not a new generation of genetically modified crops will be exempt from EU safety, traceability and transparency rules.
The study has already attracted controversy. Friends of the Earth Europe has criticised the European Commission for ignoring its own procedures by allowing the biotech industry to dominate the responses to the stakeholder consultation, as well as failing to respect transparency protocols.
The study was requested by the European Council at the end of 2019, after a European Court of Justice ruling that a new wave of GMOs - also known as new genomic techniques and new plant breeding techniques, and including gene editing methods such as CRISPR-Cas - should be subject to existing safety and traceability rules. It comes amid a sustained campaign from the biotech industry to exempt new GMOs from safety regulations. 
What can we expect from the study?
Scenario 1: The study includes policy conclusions which suggest that that the current GMO laws should not be changed. Its recommendation is that new genomic techniques should continue to be regulated in the EU.
Friends of the Earth Europe assessment: Good news for farmers, the food sector, and the environment and to give a right to choose.
This is in line with EU environment and food rules, and would ensure new GMOs are subject to safety checks before going on the market. It would ensure transparency for breeders, farmers, food processors and consumers. Transparency and traceability rules mean that damage could be mitigated in case any environmental problems are identified in the future after any GM crops are authorised.
Scenario 2: The study includes policy conclusions which suggest excluding some or all new genomic techniques from GMO laws.
Friends of the Earth Europe assessment: A bad omen for the future of food, farming and environmental protection in Europe.
This would create a precedent that new genetically modified crops can enter the EU market, and be grown without any pre-safety checks or authorisation requirements. Breeders, farmers, and food processors would lose the freedom to choose whether or not they use GMOs. A lack of traceability would mean that any future environmental damage that these products produce would be impossible to contain, and the public would be in the dark. The organic, conventional and GMO-free food sector would need to cover costs for measures to avoid contamination of their products.
Scenario 3: The study includes policy conclusions which suggest to introduce a new first step in the GMO authorisation process, which would allow techniques which meet sustainability or societal benefit criteria to undergo weaker safety checks, or none at all.
Friends of the Earth Europe assessment: A complicated waste of resources based on vague criteria, which would involve setting up new oversight bodies when a simpler and safer solution already exists.
A pre-approval phase based on vague ideas of societal benefit or sustainability has the potential to be misused to allow GM crops into the EU without safety checks to protect public health and the environment. The EU, national governments and the biotech sector do not have data to assess the sustainability of new GMOs, nor any methodology to assess economic or social impacts. In addition, the EU food safety watchdog, EFSA, would not be able to do this assessment, and so a new EU authority would need to be set up, as well as new decision-making bodies with new experts at the sub-Council level.
Scenario 4: The study proposes different options for ways forward, but does not include policy conclusions and leaves any decisions about legislative change up to the European Council and European Parliament.
Friends of the Earth Europe assessment: It is up to the European Council and European Parliament to implement the European Court of Justice ruling, and make sure that new GMOs would continue to need to undergo safety checks, be labelled, and be subject to transparency requirements.
What happens next?
The Commission will send the study for discussion at the upcoming Council meetings of Agriculture and Environment ministers. Ministers can then either reaffirm or reject the political conclusions in the scenarios of the EU Commission (Scenarios 1-3), or suggest their own legislative changes (Scenario 4).
Based on this feedback the Commission can either keep the new generation of GMOs regulated, or announce that they intend to deregulate them.
If there is institutional agreement to change the regulations (ie scenarios 2 or 3), the European Commission would start an impact assessment in advance of a new legislative proposal.
Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “The European Court of Justice ruled in 2018 that a new wave of GMOs should be subject to existing EU safety and traceability rules. These safety measures work to protect farmers, the food sector and the environment - if they’re safe enough to be grown in the EU, they’ll pass the tests. The EU must stop wasting time trying to find loopholes to allow these new GMOs onto our fields and plates, and get on with the urgent business of making our farming system more sustainable by getting rid of industrial farming and promoting agroecology.”
Friends of the Earth Europe continues to call on the institutions of the European Union to make sure the European Court of Justice’s ruling is fully implemented, and ensure new GMOs are subject to basic safety checks and authorisation requirements.
The European Commission should step back from using the outcomes of the study as a reason to bypass/undermine the European Court of Justice ruling and keep the new generation of GMOs regulated.
Environment and farm ministers should maintain the EU standards for environment and food safety for the new generation of GMOs and not create a precedent case to put untested products on our plates and fields.
The European Parliament should defend the public interest for scrutiny on new and untested technologies.
 European Commission: EC study on new genomic techniques:https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/gmo/modern_biotech/new-genomic-techniques_en
What’s in the study: the study was written in-house by the biotechnology department of the Commission and is based on 1) Member State inputs, 2) a stakeholder consultation, 3) an opinion of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies, 4) an opinion of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and 5) a report of the Joint Research Centre commissioned by the Council: At the end of 2019, Member States requested a study on practical questions of the implementation from the ruling. (Council Decision (EU) 2019/1904 on the study on new genomic techniques. The Council also requested from the EU Commission to inform about measures as a follow-up of the study or some policy options.
 Friends of the Earth Europe report: Green light for new GMOs? An analysis of the European Commission’s stakeholder consultation: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/press-release/green-light-for-new-gmos
Open letter: 161 civil society organisations call on Commission Vice-President Timmermans to regulate new GMOs: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/publication/regulate-new-gmos/
Friends of the Earth Europe report: Generation Unknown - further background on the issue of new GMOs and EU regulation: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/publication/generation-unknown-exposing-the-truth-behind-the-new-generation-of-gmos
 The Court ruling: in 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled that existing EU GMO safety laws apply to the new generation of GMOs. The court said that the new GMOs should not be excluded from EU safety and labelling rules and underlined that the potential risks posed by new GMOs: “might prove to be similar to those that result from the production and release of a GMO through transgenesis.” Under the current laws, the protection of human health and the environment states that attention must be given to controlling risks from the deliberate release of GMOs.
Ruling of the European Court of Justice, 25 July 2018, Case C-528/16 https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2018-07/cp180111en.pdf
The ruling means that the new generation of GM crops and seeds should go through safety checks, an authorisation process, and be labelled before they can be placed on the market.
 Biotech companies want less regulation for GMOs and have sought to portray new GMO techniques such as gene editing and CRISPR-Cas as no different from traditional plant breeding methods – even though the techniques involve editing plant DNA, and in spite of the European Court of Justice’s ruling affirming this. The aim of their campaign is to prevent new GMOs from being labelled, and ensuring they can be grown and imported without any safety checks.
Corporate Europe Observatory report: Derailing EU rules on GMOs
 European Commission: more information on impact assessments
Source: Friends of the Earth Europe