Interview with ENGA

– What is the European Commission planning to propose when it comes to the changes in regulation for New GMOs?

The EU Commission is planning to lower or even abolish the current GMO safety and transparency standards for plants. The precautionary principle, risk assessment and traceability and labelling requirements are at stake.

The precautionary principle requires an environmental and food safety risk assessment for GMOs before they enter EU markets. The transparency requirements – labelling and traceability – guarantee freedom of choice for business operators and consumers. Business operators (e.g. breeders, farmers, food and feed processors, retailers) keep control over their value chains, consumers can avoid GMOs in their food, competent authorities can monitor them and order a product withdrawal in case something goes wrong.

– Which kind of GMOs does this cover?

The deregulation plans cover GMOs produced by targeted mutagenesis (i.e. techniques like CRISPR/Cas) and cisgenesis (a technique where genes are only transferred between closely related organisms). The Commission’s legislative proposal will comprise all plants in which no permanent integration of foreign DNA is intended, which will be around 95% of the plants in companies’ development pipelines.

– If such a change in the regulation of New GMOs happens, what will it mean for the food sector? 

Should the EU push ahead with its planned deregulation of New GMOs then invisible, untested GMOs will be on the EU market, on supermarket shelves and on consumers’ plates. For business operators this will result in a loss of control over their feed and food value chains; once New GMOs are present and unlabelled, it would be extremely difficult to know whether or not they are contained in food and feed.

The EU food and retail sector are fully aware of these threats, as its positioning in the Commission’s public consultation on New Genomic Techniques shows. The report, published in September 2022 indicates: the majority of organic and GM-free operators, food retailers and the food processing sector are in favour of maintaining the current legislation. It is easy to understand why they take this position: firstly, most new GMOs will end up in food and the food/retail sector is responsible and liable for all products it produces and sells – it relies on a thorough risk assessment. The food and retail sector also knows very well that a large proportion of consumers do not want GMOs in their food, that GMOs do not sell. The sector therefore needs comprehensive traceability and labelling requirements.

The food and retail sector can only lose in a deregulation scenario. And it has a lot to lose: consumer trust, massive financial setbacks within the booming conventional and organic Non-GMO markets. It would be the food and retail sector that would face the questions and anger of consumers should it come to a deregulation.

– How can the sector as a whole take action and make its voice heard in the current process? 

In the EU it is still to be seen whether the European Parliament and member states, as decision-makers, will follow the Commission on its deregulation path. Therefore, it is crucial that the food sector stands up for its business interests and raises its voice in the coming months, towards national agriculture and environment ministers as well as members of the European Parliament. The sooner, the better.

– What are the next steps/timeline?

The Commission has announced that it will publish its legislative proposal in the beginning of June 2023. Afterwards, member states and the EU Parliament will decide whether and with which amendments they will accept the Commission’s proposal. How long negotiations between the EU institutions will last is not predictable.

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