Last week, EU Member States welcomed the alarming Commission’s study on “New Genomic Techniques”, which suggests certain new GMOs to be exempt from rigorous safety assessments. Slow Food sees this disappointing conclusion as a proof of the EU’s resort to biotechnologies as a silver bullet for current food system problems and calls on the EU institutions to keep new genomic techniques strictly regulated. To know more about the study and our interpretation, read our 2 pager.
On June 26-27, the EU Agriculture ministers gathered to discuss the conclusions of the recent EU Commission’s study which hints at the deregulation of new GMOs (Read our concerns). During that key meeting, they reacted on the Commission’s plan to prepare a new policy for new GMOs. “It is important that we open a dialogue on how the development of new biotechnologies can contribute to the sustainability of the food and agriculture systems”, stated Commissioner Kyriakides, head of the EU Health and Food Safety department in her opening speech.
That new GMOs may actually be harmful to biodiversity and food democracy seems irrelevant: according to Kyriakides, they can and will be part of the future of European agriculture.
“The Commission is focusing on the wrong solutions to ensure the sustainability of food systems: instead of investing resources on quick techno-fixes, the Commission should roll back incentives to farming practices that damage farmers’ livelihoods, their communities and the environment, and invest in the transition towards agroecological food systems for the benefit of all”, comments Marta Messa, director of Slow Food Europe.
Overall, national ministers welcomed the study’s outcomes, arguing that the European Union should embrace scientific progress and foster it to reach the EU Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy’s objective of a sustainable agri-food system. A majority of them expressed their support to the Commission’s ambition to update the current GMO regulation and make it more flexible to adapt to new genomic techniques, echoing the Commission’s interpretation that new GMOs are as safe as conventional breeding, despite growing evidence that new GM techniques carry specific risks. Although France stated that new genomic techniques should not be used to develop herbicide-resistant plants, which is one of the major concerns shared by many environmental organizations, the French agricultural minister is clearly in favour of deregulating new GMOs which he claims can accelerate conventional plant breeding.
Member States in a hurry to deregulate new GMOs
While most countries expressed the need to protect human health, animal welfare and the environment, their desire to see Europe embarking on the boat of genetic engineering seemed stronger, with economic competitiveness in mind. “We should make haste”, said Finland. “The legislation in the GMO field is obsolete and it doesn’t take sufficient account of new technologies”, added Slovakia. Germany warned against falling in an “ideological trap”, suggesting that opposition to new GMOs is unscientific, and thus ignoring the very real concerns voiced by numerous scientists, in addition to farmers, and citizens.
But what is this allegedly outdated legislative framework they are talking about and why should it be amended?
In 2018, the European court of justice (ECJ) ruled that new GMOs should not be excluded from EU safety and labelling rules, underlining the potential risks posed by new GMOs. The ECJ ruling means that the new generation of GM crops and seeds should go through safety checks, an authorization process and be labelled before they can be placed on the market.
If the EU were to deregulate new GMOs, it could entail less stringent safety assessments of new GMOs as well as no longer requiring them to be labelled or traceable throughout the food supply chain, which currently ensure farmers and consumers’ freedom of choice.
Slow Food’s long-standing position against GMOs
The disappointing conclusions of the study, which paves the way to the deregulation of certain new GMOs, reflect the relentless efforts of the biotechnology industry to exempt new GMOs from safety regulations. The report, far from being a thorough scientific study, merely summarizes the views of various stakeholders, based on a biased EU consultation in which the voice given to the biotechnology industry far outweighed those of civil society.