On July 5th, a worrying proposal to deregulate new GMOs (or “new genomic techniques”) in the European Union was released by the European Commission.
This is bad news for our food, biodiversity, farmers and for citizens. Slow Food rejects the Commission’s plans to exempt the majority of new GMOs from existing GMO requirements, which means they will no longer be subject to risk assessment for human health and the environment, traceability throughout the food chain nor labeling for consumers.
“The proposal to deregulate new GMOs sacrifices farmers and consumers’ rights, and the environment in order to please agribusiness. It represents a true setback in the transition to agroecology that we urgently need”, comments Madeleine Coste, Slow Food’s Director of Advocacy
Deregulating new GMOs is a threat to biodiversity and food security
The proposal to deregulate new GMOs was presented alongside new measures to monitor soil health. The Commission claims that new GMOs will help reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, but soil degradation is not only due to the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but in large part to monocultures and loss of biodiversity, which this new GMO proposal will only enhance.
Just like the old generation of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), “the release of new GMOs (such as those obtained by CRISPR technology) into the environment will further impoverish both agricultural biodiversity and soil health in European fields, as it will encourage the continuation of monocultures and uniformity, on which industrial agriculture relies, eventually leading to a reduction in the number of species and varieties of foods that will be grown, eroding the biodiversity which is essential to ensuring food security”, continues Francesco Sottile, Slow Food’s Board Member and agronomist
The Commission’s proposal to no longer test new GMO plants for safety is baffling. A large and ever-growing number of scientific studies show that new GMOs are far less precise than what is being claimed and give rise to numerous genetic errors. Researchers highlight the need to test for these unintended mutations (DNA damage), because once new GMOs have been released into nature, it is impossible to prevent the contamination of crops nearby, and to avoid their spread.
All of this goes against the EU Green Deal ambition of a restored nature and ecosystem protection and would jeopardize all efforts made to protect the environment, stop biodiversity loss, and provide more secure food for the population.
Deregulating new GMOs means removing control from farmers and placing it in the hands of corporations
Despite the largest farmers unions and conservative politicians claiming that farmers want to produce new GMOs, the EU proposal will likely increase the already immense corporate control that large agrochemical companies have over our food systems. Indeed, patents on seeds lead to an unacceptable direct loss of control farmers have over their own seeds and production resources, and a greater uncertainty as to what they are allowed to do with their seeds. Even if new GMOs will not be allowed in organic farming, one additional problem with the Commission’s proposal is how difficult and costly it will become for non-GMO and organic farmers to guarantee their food is GMO-free because of the serious risk of contamination, as transparency and traceability are being eroded with this proposal.
Vice-President Timmermans said during the press conference that he “doesn’t think that there will be much resistance from the farming community to this proposal”. But do farmers really want to produce new GMO foods? From the Slow Food network, it is clear that many farmers want agroecological solutions, working with nature, and with diversity in the fields, not with new GMOs developed in a lab.
So, who are the “farmers” who want to use biotechnology?
A new investigation by Lighthouse Reports reveals that the European farmers’ lobby group Copa-Cogeca who claims to be the voice of farmers and to represent 22 million European farmers, severely overstates its legitimacy. Interviews with 120 farmers and insiders, politicians, academics, and activists cast real doubt over how well the union represents small and medium sized farmers, but instead represents only the largest and most industrialized farms. One thing is clear: farmers must have control over their own resources, and be able to produce the food they want, and not depend on patented seeds.
“Slow Food works every day to promote food systems based on agroecological principles that benefit the environment, farmers, and consumers. We need policies that accompany farmers and support them in transitioning to environment-friendly practices, not that promote unproven silver-bullet solutions.” concludes Nina Wolff, Slow Food’s Board Member and Director of Slow Food Germany
The new rules on new GMOs will eliminate transparency for consumers
For the majority of new GM crops, the European Commission is removing mandatory GMO labelling, meaning that consumers, but also farmers and retailers will no longer be able to know whether their food contains GMOs or not. Today, it is mandatory for fruit and vegetables obtained from GMO techniques to carry the GMO label, and polls show that citizens want this to remain the case. The deregulation of new GMOs goes against the right of consumers to be informed that is enshrined in the Treaty of the European Union.
Earlier this year, a coalition of over 50 organizations from 7 EU countries handed over to the European Commission a petition that was signed by 420,000 EU citizens, demanding to keep new GMOs regulated and labelled.
If biodiversity, farmers, and citizens will lose out on this proposal, who are the winners? The deregulation of new GMOs will profit an already powerful agrochemical industry, and those farmers who do not want to acknowledge that industrial agriculture underpins a broken food system and contribute greatly to climate change. The EU Ombudsman has opened an investigation earlier this year following a complaint by several civil society organizations, who have described the process to reach this proposal as “very biased.” The inquiry is ongoing.
We call on the European Parliament and national Environment ministers to protect consumers and farmers’ right to choose and reject the European Commission proposal to release untested GMOs.
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