Political hotspot May 2021 newsletter

On Thursday, 29 April, the Commission released their long-awaited in-house study on the ‘status of new genomic techniques under Union law and in light of the Court of Justice ruling in Case C-528/16’ and an accompanying press release. What is evident from this report is that the Commission appears to be convinced that new genetic engineering techniques are an important part of their wider sustainability agenda and in line with the EU Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

According to IFOAM Organics Europe, this report by DG Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) is largely based on assumptions on the future “benefits for society” of new genetic engineering techniques and does not contain solid arguments to back up its conclusion that the current GMO legislation is “not fit for purpose” for the new techniques. Based on these assumptions, the Commission is seeking to propose new legislation to promote new genetic engineering techniques and launch a wide-ranging consultation with stakeholders and Member States to discuss a future legal framework. If the Ministers of the Member States go along with the line of the Commission and give their green light, a new legal framework could create a challenging situation. This is because on the one hand, the Commission seeks to increase organic land and agroecological production, and on the other hand they also intend to promote farming systems relying on GMOs.

Currently, and in line with the ruling of the European Court of Justice, varieties developed using these new techniques can only be marketed and/or cultivated if they to go through the same approval process as other GMOs, including risk assessment, traceability along the production chain and labelling. In a press release, IFOAM Organics Europe expressed the concern that weakening the rules on using genetic engineering in agriculture and food is worrying news and could leave organic food systems unprotected – including the 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.

Furthermore, the EU organic movement’s press release calls on the EU Commission and Member States to maintain the existing regulatory framework and seriously consider the impact of the proposed regulatory scenario on organic food & farming, consumer choice and access to agrobiodiversity.

While consumer groups and environmental NGOs would like to see the current regulation maintained and properly implemented, the farming lobby of the conventional sector (Copa-Cogeca) calls on the Commission to speed up the process of developing new legislation. While impacts on the organic sector are mentioned several times in the Commission study, no concrete solutions are proposed on how the Commission would intend to preserve the integrity of the organic supply chain in case they went ahead with plans to take the new genetic engineering techniques out of the current legal framework applying to GMOs. This includes the question of how and whether traceability of these organisms would be maintained for (organic) food producers and seed producers and enabling them not to use products from genetic engineering in their production process.

In the next step, the Commission will present their plans to the Ministers of the Member States at an Agriculture Council meeting on 31 May, to members of the European Parliament and stakeholders. National positions on how new genetic engineering techniques should be regulated will be crucial in the coming months to decide whether the Commission will go ahead with its suggested plans to develop a new and specific legal framework for “novel genomic techniques”. IFOAM Organics Europe will be heavily involved in this policy debate, representing the European organic movement’s voice.

For more information on GMOs and IFOAM Organics Europe’s work on this issue, please contact [email protected]. Please do note that we prioritise our members’ requests.

IFOAM Organics Europe members can find more information on the member extranet. For information about what you can gain from being a member, read our membership page and contact [email protected].

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