Study on new genomic techniques
New GMOs are being promoted in a study by the European Commission ignoring the precautionary principle and the freedom of choice for farmers and consumers. The Biodynamic Federation Demeter International is deeply concerned by this position and reiterates the necessity to oppose any deregulation of GMOs.
At the request of the Council of the European Union (1), the European Commission published today a study on new genomic techniques (NGTs) (2) stressing their potential for sustainable agriculture and opening the discussion for a new policy. The study stresses that “the current 2001 GMO legislation is not fit for purpose for some NGTs and their products” and proposes to open a consultation process in view of a policy reform. This would mean that new GMOs, such as CRISPR-Cas, would not be subject to any safety checks before entering the market and would not require any labelling or traceability.
Such a change would fundamentally jeopardize the right of farmers and consumers to know how and where their food comes from. Due to the invasive nature of new GMOs, if they were to be deregulated, it would become nearly impossible to guarantee the integrity of whole system organisms. This means that gene edited products could be found in seed varieties without any disclosure which endangers the integrity of our resources and biodiversity and goes against the tradition of the precautionary principle.
The argument that new GMOs can contribute to increasing the sustainability of food and farming remains an ideal with very little basis in reality. Currently only one new GMO crop, a strain of maize resistant to the pesticide glufinosate, has applied for EU authorisation, so the potential benefits of new GMOs are far from being demonstrated in practice. What is clear is that interactions between genes and other elements are incredibly complex meaning that any genetic engineering intervention in the genome can have unforeseeable and unintended consequences (3), which can pose risks to human health and the environment.
Therefore, it is crucial that the European Union fully implements the ‘precautionary principle’ of 2018 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) Ruling. According to the Ruling, all organisms obtained with NGTs must be regulated under the current EU GMO legislation (4). The Court itself mentioned that an exclusion of NGTs from the current legislative scope “would compromise the objective of protection pursued by the directive and would fail to respect the precautionary principle which it seeks to implement”(para 53 of the Ruling).
In view of the upcoming discussions on a potential new policy on new GMOs, the Federation urges the European Commission and the EU Member States to “take a clear stand against a deregulation of all new GMOs fully enforcing the precautionary principle of the ECJ ”. “Prior risk assessment and authorisation, as well as traceability and labelling, are essential for all products on the market to ensure the freedom of choice for both farmers and consumers, as well as to limit the risks to our health and the environment”, says Clara Behr, Head of Policy and Public Relations at the Federation.