New report fails to follow European Court of Justice ruling, in a win for the biotech industry that spells bad news for farming, the environment and the public
The European Commission has opened the door to exempting a new generation of genetically modified crops from safety checks before being allowed onto the EU market, according to a key study released today.
The study finds that there are “strong indications that the current 2001 GMO legislation is not fit for purpose for some NGTs [new genomic techniques, or new GM techniques] and their products”, and proposes a new consultation process that could break with decades of safety checks to protect the environment and public health.
If this line of argument is taken up by the EU institutions and passed into law, it would mean that new GMOs – such as gene editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas – would not be labelled as GMOs on shelves if they end up on the market, nor be subject to traceability requirements in case product recalls are needed.
By contrast, the German environment minister and the Austrian government have both stated their position that the new generation of GMOs should continue to be regulated by existing EU GMO law. Some 161 farmers’ groups and civil society organisations have also written to the European Commission to support the point.
Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “The European Commission has fallen hook, line and sinker for the biotech industry’s spin, and has set the future of food and farming in the EU down a dark path today. They are suggesting tearing up decades of the precautionary principle, by allowing new GM crops onto our fields and plates without safety tests.
"It’s now up to national farming and environment ministers to make sure the EU stops wasting time trying to find loopholes to allow these new crops 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.”
The study, requested in 2019 by the European Council, diverges significantly from a 2018 European Court of Justice ruling which underlined similarities in the potential risks between a new generation of GMOs and their predecessors.
Not a fix for sustainable farming – empty promises
EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides highlighted that the study “concludes that New Genomic Techniques can promote the sustainability of agricultural production, in line with the objectives of our Farm to Fork Strategy”.
However, the only new GMO submitted for authorisation in the EU so far is a strain of maize which is resistant to the pesticide glufosinate – indicating that for all of the rhetoric and spin, the new generation of GMOs continue to function as a mechanism for facilitating the unsustainable model of pesticide-dependent farming that the Farm to Fork Strategy is intended to tackle.
The study also comes following a sustained campaign from the biotech industry to exempt new GMOs from safety regulations.
The European Commission will now send the study for discussion at upcoming Agriculture and Environment Councils, where ministers will decide whether to accept or reject the policy recommendations, or propose their own. An impact assessment and public consultation to explore different regulatory options will then follow.
Source of comment: Friends of the Earth Europe