EU Parliament Committee votes in favor of New Genomic Techniques, potential changes in GMO framework

In a recent vote, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) expressed support for the European Commission's proposal to revise the regulations surrounding new genomic techniques (NGTs). NGTs are a variety of techniques that alter the genetic material of an organism are that are currently subject to the same strict rules as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).    

The committee voted 47 in favor, 31 against, with 4 abstentions, establishing two categories for NGTs: NGT 1, which refers to genetically modified plants that are indistinguishable from conventionally bred plants and would be exempt from GMO legislation, and NGT 2, which includes plants with more complex genetic modifications and would be subject to stricter regulations.    

NGTs have the potential to contribute to a more sustainable and resilient food system by developing improved plant varieties that are climate-resistant, pest-resistant, and have higher yields while requiring fewer fertilizers and pesticides. The European Food Safety Authority already evaluated the safety aspects of NGTs in 2021.    

The committee's decision aligns with the Commission's proposal presented in July. It was agreed that NGT seeds should be appropriately labeled, but consumer-level labeling for NGT 1 products would not be mandatory.    

Intellectual property issues related to NGTs will be evaluated at a later stage, with the aim of preventing hindrance to research and ensuring fair access to seed producers and growers. The parliamentary groups also seek to ban the “patentability” of NGTs.    

An ongoing debate revolves around whether NGTs should be authorized for use in organic farming. While the Commission has excluded this possibility (except in cases of accidental contamination), farmer representatives at the European level argue that genomic techniques should be freely applicable to organic seeds.    

Critics of the committee's decision, including some MEPs from the Socialist, Green, and radical Left parties, have expressed concerns about the adequacy of the guarantees provided in the text. They advocate for stricter traceability requirements and systematic labeling of products resulting from genetic manipulation.  
The French health agency ANSES recently warned about potential health and environmental risks associated with NGTs.  
Various NGOs, such as Greenpeace and IFOAM-Organics International, have raised concerns about the potential risks of NGTs and have called for stricter regulations, treating them as GMOs. They argue that the proposed legislation weakens safety checks, labeling, and traceability rules.    

The next step is for the European Parliament to vote on the bill during the plenary session scheduled for February 5-8, 2024. However, reaching an agreement between the Parliament and the Council before the end of the legislature remains uncertain.  
The outcome of the vote will have significant implications for the regulation of NGTs in the European Union.        



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