The European Commission recently proposed relaxing laws on GMOs, exempting certain GMO plants from the EU’s strict GMO regulations. Gene-edited plants, for instance, would not be labeled as GMOs and wouldn’t require a risk assessment for health and environment nor traceability.
Biotech seed corporations have aggressively lobbied to exempt “New Genomic Techniques” (NGTs) from the regulations. These tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing fall under Category 1 of the proposal, allowing for up to 20 genetic modifications such as deletions or insertions that the Commission says “could also occur naturally or be produced by conventional breeding.”
The logic used to justify the deregulation of what is nothing but a new generation of GMOs is based on statements coming from the biotechnology sector. According to them, products obtained through genetic editing, are to be considered harmless as gene editing would allow them to mimic nature’s natural mechanisms of genetic evolution and reproduction, now only faster.
But as demonstrated by many independent studies, gene editing is not as accurate, safe, or sustainable as the industry claims. The process, considered as a whole, induces hundreds of unwanted mutations throughout the plant genome. This may affect multiple gene functions with unknown consequences to cell protein biochemistry and metabolic activity.
The modifications go far beyond conventional breeding, said Karl Bär, a Green Party member in Germany. The only exception in Category 1 is herbicide-tolerant GM crops which would still need authorization.
“The proposal would be the end of organic farming,” Bär said. “The European Commission seems to have completely caved in to the GMO corporations.”
IFOAM Organics Europe considers the Commission’s proposal to deregulate NGTs as “misguided, dangerous for European seed autonomy.”
Nina Holland, researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), says: “The assumption the Commission makes that new GMOs would lead to more sustainability are based on industry’s claims, instead of real evidence. In reality, this is a give-away to the biotech seed firms like Bayer, Corteva, and BASF.”
Without labeling, consumers won’t know if they’re eating GMOs, and farmers would have no way to protect against contamination and keep their crops GMO-free. Biotech companies would further increase control over the seed market in Europe.
The EC proposal needs approval from the European Parliament and EU governments and may be revised.
The agriculture ministers of Germany and Austria have already raised objections to the EC proposal.
“The precautionary principle must continue to be taken into account,” said German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir in a statement. “Whether the present draft does justice to this must be doubted.”
Meanwhile, Özdemir’s Austrian counterpart expressed strong criticism about the EC’s proposal.
“Austria’s agriculture is GMO-free in cultivation, and we want to maintain this pioneering role,” he explained.
Further he said the EC’s proposal “counteracts the Austrian way of agriculture and deprives consumers of their freedom of choice.”
(Sources: WorldStage News, Navdanya, International, EURACTIV)