GMOs: new attempt to liberalise GMOs. After the vote in the Senate, a broad front of associations is mobilising in view of the vote on the 13th of January by the Agriculture Committee of the Chamber of Deputies.

13 Jan 2021

“The approval of the decrees on New Breeding Techniques (NBT) would be a serious attack on our agri-food chain, on the precautionary principle, on the rights of farmers, as well as a violation of the European Court of Justice ruling that equates new and old GMOs”.

Rome 11.01.21 – The opinion of the Agriculture Commission of the Chamber of Deputies on the four decrees proposed by the Minister of Agriculture, Teresa Bellanova, which under the pretext of updating phytosanitary measures, reorganize the national seed system, open the way to the spread of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and the so-called “new” GMOs (obtained through New Breeding Techniques – NBT) is expected on the 13th of January.

Already on the 28th of December, in a “quiet” and shortened session during to the holidays, the Agriculture Commission gave a favourable opinion on the four decrees, which in fact allow the non-traceable field testing of seed varieties and propagation material obtained through the “new techniques of genetic improvement” (NBT) that, as confirmed by the ruling of the European Court of Justice in 2018, are to all intents and purposes GMOs and as such must be subject to existing European regulations on the matter.

If the Agriculture Committee of the Chamber takes the same decision as that of the Senate, PDO, PGIs, quality wines, organic production, products of the territories, local and traditional varieties may be contaminated by products obtained with the new genome editing techniques (NBT) that will not be labelled as GMOs and will therefore be unrecognisable to consumers. As a result, those who want guaranteed ‘GMO-free’ products, e.g. for export, will also reject products labelled ‘non-GMO’ for lack of certainty. ​Who will pay for the damage? In fact, with

these decrees, the penalties for the environmental release of GMOs are small and, in addition to having no deterrent function, they open up the immediate possibility of open field experimentation.

In reality, there would only be an obligation to adapt the legislation if it were to accept the cultivation of GMO varieties, which current Italian legislation explicitly excludes. A choice that extends to the new techniques of ​genome editing​, thanks to the enforceable ruling of the European Court of Justice, which in 2018 established that “Organisms obtained by means of mutagenesis techniques or methods must be considered as GMOs within the meaning of Article 2(2) of Directive 2001/18…”​. The definition of GMOs in the Cartagena Protocol – the same one that introduces the Precautionary Principle guaranteeing the protection of our health, our environment and biodiversity – is based on clear and irrefutable criteria. All new genome editing techniques involve the introduction of genome segments and produce modified organisms that meet these criteria. However, these techniques also often lead to undesirable mutations (​off target​), which have become increasingly evident and documented in the scientific literature. Finally, genome editing protocols normally involve the same basic techniques as the ‘old’ GMOs, which are responsible for unintended deletions and rearrangements.

It is also serious that the proposed decrees surreptitiously and quietly abolish, along with the right to reseed, farmers’ seed rights, thus violating ​Article 9 of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA). The article states that “nothing in this Article shall be construed as restricting the right of farmers to save, use, exchange and sell seed or propagating material”.

For all these reasons, an increasingly broad front of environmental associations, organic and peasant farming organisations, and consumer associations is denouncing the government’s attempt to open up to new and old GMOs just to favour a very small number of companies, most of them large multinationals, which want to gain control of the agri-food chain and intend to confront farmers and consumers with already-made decisions, with patented, untraceable and uncertain quality products, violating the Precautionary Principle to guarantee health, the environment and biodiversity, without any analysis of the impact on the national agricultural system.

In view of the vote of the Agriculture Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, the Associations launch an appeal to the political decision-makers: “For two decades we have been mobilised to keep our fields free from GMOs, to maintain the possibility for companies to produce their own seeds and to boost our agricultural system. We will also oppose in every forum this clumsy and underhand attack on our agri-food chain, whose competitiveness derives from what cultivated biodiversity is able to express; we call for the immediate execution of the European Court of Justice’s ruling on the GMO nature of NBT mutants and for full respect of the Treaty on Genetic Resources (ITPGRFA) and we appeal to the members of the Agriculture Commission to speak out against the decrees, as they lack any real or urgent motivation. The discussion on strategic choices such as those on GMOs and NBTs must take place on transparent and participatory tables, protected from the interference of the biotech lobbies”.

*Press release on behalf of: Acu; Aiab; Altragricoltura Bio; Ari; Ass. Agr. Biodinamica; Civiltà Contadina; Coord. Zero OGM; Crocevia; Deafal; Égalité; European Consumers; European Coordination Via Campesina; Fair Watch; FederBio; Firab; Greenpeace; Isde; Legambiente; Lipu; Navdanya; Pro Natura; Slow Food; Terra!; Unaapi; WWF.

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