In a tight vote the European Parliament adopted in plenary today the proposal on New Genomic Techniques (NGTs). For the Biodynamic Federation Demeter International, representing the biodynamic farming movement worldwide as part of the organic sector, the Parliament went backwards on biosafety but introduced some improvements on traceability and labelling.
Today’s vote opens many questions on the impact of the proposal on biosafety. Category 1 NGTs will no longer undergo a thorough risk assessment as is currently the case. This is even more important, considering the lack of scientific evidence guiding the distinction between category 1 and category 2 NGTs. The European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility and the French food safety authority ANSES both pointed out the absence of a scientific basis for the criteria laid out in Annex I of the proposal, which would impact the number of NGTs that must undergo risk assessment, ignoring the risks NGTs could pose to the environment and our health.
Another key point is the issue of patents. While the Parliament recognized the problematic for farmers and breeders alike, the proposed measures won’t be enough to protect them. Intellectual property rights attached to NGTs extend to genetic material and traits that can also be obtained by conventional breeding exposing farmers to legal threats from multinationals. Only a modification of the European Patents Convention could enable to limit the scope of patents related to genetic engineering. Meanwhile, traceability and labelling of NGTs provide a minimum level of information that helps operators identify potential patents and avoid legal threats.
In line with the organic sector’s demand, the Biodynamic Federation Demeter International welcomes the maintenance of the ban of all NGTs in organic production. The Federation remains indeed committed not to use NGTs as is stipulated in the Demeter Standard. However, the legal and technical means to implement the ban in practice were missing so far putting the burden on the operators alone.
‘The Parliament made a first step in the right direction with including mandatory document-based traceability for category 1 NGTs. Missing now is the possibility for Member States to adopt coexistence measures for category 1 NGTs plants and products, such as provisions for separation distances, to diminish the risk of contamination of NGTs in other crops, along with liability measures’, urges Clara Behr, Head of Policy and Public Relations for the Federation.
More importantly, the Parliament also reintroduced mandatory labelling for category 1 NGTs fundamental to ensure freedom of choice for consumers and addressing citizens perception. An EU-wide petition which collected more than 420, 000 signatures, showed that citizens remain concerned about the use of NGTs and prefer to uphold mandatory risk assessment, traceability and labelling for all NGTs.
For the upcoming negotiations, ‘EU policymakers must ensure the freedom of choice of farmers, food producers and consumers by ensuring traceability along the whole supply chain through the adoption of robust coexistence and lability measures while guaranteeing a minimum level of biosafety for our health and environment. A proper assessment of all issues at stake will require time and thorough discussions’, urges Clara Behr.