EU Commission wants to revise genetic engineering law
by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)
Up to now, plants produced using new genetic engineering methods such as the Crispr/Cas gene scissors have been subject to EU genetic engineering law. They must be tested for risks, approved and labelled. The EU Commission has made it clear in a report that it wants to change the rules for Crispr plants.
The Commission's reasoning is twofold: it believes the claim of proponents that new genetically engineered crops are good for climate protection and sustainability. The new techniques have the potential to "contribute to a more sustainable food system in the context of the objectives of the European Green Deal and the 'farm to table' strategy", the Commission's press release states. Secondly, it does not see any major risks: interventions in the genetic material, in which point mutations are produced or only genes of one species are transferred, are just as safe as conventional breeding. The Commission refers to a corresponding expert opinion of the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Based on this, the Commission argues that the strict requirements that EU genetic engineering law places on risk assessment are not justified for these products of new genetic engineering. The law should be adapted to scientific and technical progress. At the same time, a high level of protection for human and animal health and for the environment should be maintained.
Starting signal for the discussion
In its report, the Commission announced its intention to initiate appropriate political measures, i.e. legislative amendments. The first step is to examine possible policy options in an impact assessment with public consultation. The Commission did not specify a date by which concrete proposals for change should be available. First of all, it wants to discuss its report broadly.
Now is the time to "have an open dialogue with citizens, Member States and the European Parliament to decide together on the way forward on the use of these genetic engineering techniques in the EU", said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Her agency had prepared the report itself, on behalf of the member states.
German Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner welcomed "the fact that the EU Commission is initiating the overdue modernisation of the European legal framework for new molecular biological techniques (NMT) with the study presented today". With the Commission, she wants to "create regulations that keep pace with scientific findings and enable a differentiated risk assessment".
Organic sector warns against deregulation
The Commission's proposal met with criticism from environmental and organic associations. "A weakening of the rules on the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and food is worrying news and could leave organic food systems unprotected – including their ability to trace GMOs throughout the food chain to avoid contaminations that lead to economic losses and to live up to organic quality standards and consumer expectations," said IFOAM - Organics Europe President Jan Plagge. "Only if genetic engineering continues to be regulated like genetic engineering in the future can everyone decide how they want to eat, how they want to farm land or produce food: GMO-free or not," argued Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, Chair of the organic umbrella organisation BÖLW. "Deregulation would mean the opposite, namely that European safety and quality standards would be softened." In this context, Löwenstein recalled the broad opposition to the TTIP trade agreement.
What changes the organic sector wants to achieve
However, the environmental and organic associations also see a need for change in the EU Genetic Engineering Law and want to bring this into the discussion announced by the EU Commission. They want to achieve that
- the studies for the approval of a GM plant are no longer carried out by the manufacturers, but are contracted out to independent scientists by the approval authority;
- long-term effects and socio-economic effects are also examined during the approval process;
- the use of genetically modified plants in animal feed must also be declared on the products.