Organic, protecting Europe's genetic diversity
Organic farming seeks to protect the genetic integrity of living organisms, and this is why no GMOs are used in the organic production process. It ensures the availability of enough GMO-free and organically compatible resources. The organic sector commits to meeting consumers’ highest expectations about the genetic resources it is using.
Large corporations are increasingly developing and using novel organisms created through genetic engineering using techniques like transgenesis, but also new techniques like TALENs, Zinc Finger Nuclease or CRISPR/Cas9, sometimes grouped under the term of “gene editing”. These techniques are powerful and interfere with the genetic mark-up of the planet’s biodiversity. They are not as precise as it is claimed, trigger unwanted effects and their consequences remain poorly understood. Most GM-crops put on the market produce insecticide toxins, or are used in conjunction with synthetic herbicides they were made to “tolerate”. To protect the collective genetic heritage and biodiversity we must keep the control and release of varieties derived from genetic engineering transparent and regulated at EU level. Transparency, traceability and labelling are crucial to allow producers and consumers to choose GMO-free products.
Biotic & abiotic factors, climate change and the needs of agriculture and food production change. This is why there is an ongoing need to develop new cultivars for (organic) farmers so they can adapt. As organic movement, we respect our genetic heritage and planetary biodiversity, so we take a precautionary approach to the changes humanity makes to it. In the European Union, organic agriculture is GMO-free by definition, as the use of GMOs is prohibited in the organic production process, according to the current (Regulation 834/2007, Art. 4), and new organic regulation (Regulation 848/2018, Art. 5).
IFOAM Organics Europe…
- Seeks to safeguard the integrity of genetic resources used in organic;
- Protects organic from GMO contamination by advocating for clear and thorough standards and regulations maintaining the high EU standards on safety assessments, traceability and labelling;
- Strengthens organic production by organising and supporting the organic movement’s efforts to develop practical strategies to remain GMO-free;
- Facilitates the dialogue with the conventional GMO-free sector;
- Created a GMO task force to strengthen advocacy work and build members’ capacity;
- Started the ‘Keeping GMOs out of organic’ project to help protect the GMO-free production chain against contamination.
Thanks to our work and the work in the NGO coalitions that we are part of, no new GMOs were authorised for cultivation in the EU since 2015 and 17 national bans on cultivation are in place at national or regional level. Moreover, the European Court of Justice also ruled that new GMOs fall under the scope of the GMO legislation.
In a letter to the Member States, the European Commission declares that they are exploring new policy options for ‘New Genomic Techniques’ (new genetic engineering techniques) and announced to publish a preparatory impact assessment in the 3rd Quarter of 2021. IFOAM Organics Europe will participate in the consultation process to represent the interests of the organic sector.
In the European Union, the current (Regulation 834/2007, Art. 4), and new organic regulation (Regulation 848/2018, Art. 5) state that the use of GMOs is prohibited in organic agriculture. EU legislation extensively covers GMOs.
This legislation aims at protecting human and animal health and the environment. Doing so, it prescribes a harmonised risk assessment procedure at the EU level before any GMO can be placed on the market. It also ensures clear labelling of GMOs that are placed on the market to enable consumers and operators in the (organic) food chain to make an informed choice. Furthermore, the legislation prescribes traceability of all GMOs on the market, offering a legal guarantee for operators in the food chain that their products do not contain unwanted organisms.
On 25 July 2018, the European Court of Justice provided clarity on new mutagenesis techniques. In its ruling, the Court of Justice states that new mutagenesis techniques are GMOs and that EU Member States must regulate them as such.
The risk of contamination threatens the GMO-free food production chain, and the economic well-being of farmers and producers. The organic movement stresses the importance of maintaining and properly implementing the current GMO legislation, including a risk assessment procedure, as well as traceability and labelling requirements.
For the organic sector, it is crucial to subject new techniques of genetic engineering to the same requirements as ‘old’ GMOs. This is essential to maintain the EU’s high standards protecting human health and the environment. Moreover, it gives the organic sector the possibility and capacity to remain GMO-free. To protect the income and livelihoods of organic farmers and processors, all contamination of non-GMO materials should be prevented by the GMO producer in line with the polluter pays principle.
All techniques of genetic modification must be regulated. Give organic farming the tools to remain GMO-free. Consult this leaflet in any of the 24 official European languages.
The organic movement faces new challenges. The pressure to exempt new genetic engineering techniques from the Regulation is as high as ever, which means that the safeguard for genetic resources free of genetic modification is at stake. At the same time, the development of organic seeds is gaining priority, to enable organic to build a seed sector that is adapted to the (low input) conditions of organic farming and to harness the potential of cultivated plant diversity.
An integrated approach is needed to both protect genetic resources and to enable transparency and the capability to produce without GM for organic but also conventional agriculture. Therefore, IFOAM Organics Europe has launched the project “Organic movement activities on Seed Diversity and GMO Regulation”, which aims to:
- Strengthen regulation of new genetic engineering techniques to ensure transparency in the food chain and maintain capability not to use GMO, including for organic.
- Creating a favorable legislative framework to increase the diversity of genetic material available for farmers; facilitate the market access of organic varieties and boost production and use of organic seeds.
- Bring together the organic movement, NGOs and other stakeholders from the food chain to develop a common vision and to actively engage in the legislative process regarding regulation of new genetic engineering techniques for food & agriculture.
In the frame of previous projects we also released:
- Practical guidelines for farmers, food & feed processors to avoid GMO-contamination;
- An overview of the socio-economic impacts of GMOs on European agriculture; and
- A document on the impacts of the ‘coexistence’ of GMOs on European GMO-free agriculture.
IFOAM Organics Europe has published practical guidelines for farms as well as food and feed processors on how to avoid GMO contaminations. This guide provides examples on the strategies and practices of how the organic value chain avoids contamination and ensures the highest quality requirements that consumers expect from organic products.
As covered in the last edition of the newsletter, the Commission is considering a new legal proposal for so-called “New Genomic Techniques” or new genetic engineering techniques. IFOAM Organics Europe has previously expressed concerns that weakening the rules on using genetic engineering in agriculture and food is worrying news and could leave organic food systems unprotected.
Commission consults Europeans on new GMOs: Make your voice heard
The Commission has now launched a public consultation on the Inception Impact Assessment for “new genomic techniques’, which is open until 22 October. This consultation is open for all citizens (even non-EU ones – choose “other” from country dropdown menu) and organisations and aims to identify crucial issues to be considered before a new legal proposal is made.
To enable citizens to easily participate in the public consultation, a tool has been developed to allow respondents to send a message directly to the European Commission in favour of organic and against deregulation. Below you can find the tool in English, embedded.
Do you wish to reply to the consultation in a different language?
The work of IFOAM Organics Europe on this topic is co-financed by the LIFE programme of the European Union, under the Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). This page only reflects the views of the authors and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. The CINEA is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.