Regulation of new genetic engineering plants, EU Member States struggle to reach an agreement

In the past days, the EU member states tried to find a compromise on the future regulation of plants developed using new genetic engineering (NGT) technologies. However, efforts by the Belgian EU Council Presidency to broker a compromise have failed, deepening divisions among member states.    

The European Commission had originally proposed that most NGT plants could be brought to market without mandatory risk assessments. The Belgian Presidency subsequently put forward a plan to link this proposal to the issue of patenting, suggesting that NGT plants benefiting from fast-track market access should not be patented.    

However, this proposal was rejected by many EU member states, who also objected to limiting the discussions solely to patents. Instead, issues such as protecting GMO-free agriculture and the principles of risk assessment were raised. Questions were also posed about the legal basis for connecting the approval process with seed patents.    

The next meeting of member states is scheduled for July, when Hungary will hold the Council Presidency. The Belgian Presidency will also make a final push to make progress by the end of June.    

Environmental group Testbiotech has warned that the Commission's original proposal poses significant risks, suggesting that, if safe handling of NGT plants is not guaranteed in the legal framework, their introduction may create massive problems for future generations, including irreversible harm to biodiversity.  
Other concerns raised by Testbiotech include market disruptions in agriculture and food production, disruptions to plant breeding innovation, and damage to consumer interests.

Testbiotech has also reached out to leading candidates in the upcoming European Parliament elections, but received only a generic response from an EU Commission official. The Commission seems to be maintaining its proposal despite the concerns raised.    

The failure to find a compromise underscores the political sensitivities surrounding the regulation of NGT plants, which are seen by some as a potential solution to food security challenges but by others as a threat to the environment and traditional agriculture.    

As the debate continues, the need for a balanced, evidence-based approach that addresses the concerns of all stakeholders has never been more crucial. With time running out before the Hungarian Presidency takes over, EU member states will face increasing pressure to find a way forward on this contentious issue in the coming weeks.