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Europe: a step closer to GMO crops?

11/07/2023 - François-Xavier Branthôme
According to several Italian media outlets, on June 12, the Italian Senate's agriculture and environment committees unanimously approved an amendment to the drought decree that opens up field trials for new GMOs. These are plant varieties obtained using new-generation biotechnologies known as NGT (New Genomic Techniques), renamed TEA (Assisted Evolution Techniques) in Italy, which the Court of Justice of the EU, in a 2018 ruling, equated in all respects with genetically modified organisms.

 Greenpeace believes that with this vote, "Italy is taking a step towards abandoning the line of strict opposition to GMOs that it has maintained for twenty years, opening itself up to field experimentation that represents the premise for the arrival of genetically modified foods on Italian consumers' tables."

The vote does not take into account the European Court of Justice ruling that equates new biotechnologies with GMOs, and imposes traceability, labeling and risk assessment for these techniques. This decision also disregards the recent position adopted by over 300 organizations from around the world, who called on European Commissioner Timmermans to "not attempt undemocratic acceleration on such a scientifically and politically controversial issue."

In order to request the withdrawal of the amendment approved by the Commissions from the final text, in the name of respect for farmers' rights and consumers' food safety, the associations of the "Coalizione Italia Libera da #OGM" have now turned to parliamentarians and the presidents of the regional authorities.

EU seeks to relax gene-edited crop restrictions
According to Reuters, the European Commission proposed revising its rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on July 5, 2023, to loosen some restrictions for plants resulting from newer gene-editing technology.
The principle behind these new genomic techniques is to mutate the existing genomes of a plant variety without adding genes from outside the species.

The EU executive said the move would give farmers more resilient crops and reduce the use of chemical pesticides and offer consumers food with higher nutritional value. The Commission launched a review in 2021 after concluding that GMO legislation from 2001 was "not fit for purpose". The EU's top court had ruled in 2018 that genome-editing techniques should be governed by GMO rules.
According to the Commission, these innovations could make it possible to develop plants that are more resistant to climate change or parasites. "We can be much faster, we can be much more targeted and with that we can probably also be cheaper.
"So, we will be able to focus our breeding and we will be able to focus on trade that really matters to farmers and to consumers." Garlich von Essen, secretary general of Euroseeds told Euronews.
The Commission stresses that this innovation could, for example, halve the use of pesticides.

The newest European Commission proposal on new genomic techniques (NGTs) leaves the issue of patentability for plants obtained by these new methods unanswered, with the EU executive pushing back possible actions to 2026.
However, the Commission decided not to deal with Intellectual property rights in the new NGTs proposal. “The legislation that we’re proposing on the NGTs does not deal with the question of patentability,” commented an EU official, adding that the legal reference in this sense remains the 1998 directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.
The EU executive will instead closely monitor the impact of patents on the market and breeding innovation, as part of a broader market analysis. The analysis will take into account breeders’ access to genetic material and techniques, as well as the availability of seeds to farmers and the overall competitiveness of the EU biotech industry.
The Commission will report on its findings by 2026. It will identify possible challenges in the sector and serve as a basis to decide on any possible follow-up actions,” the communication on sustainable use of natural resources – which includes the new NGTs framework – reads.

Click here to access the COPA COGECA statement on European Commission’s proposal on NGT-plants and plant and forest reproductive materials






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