NGTs, new GMOs, deregulation advances

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On 24 January 2024 the ENVI (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) Commission of the European Parliament voted in favor of the deregulation of new GMOs, or NGTs (New Genomic Techniques). ‘A slap in the face of the precautionary principle and a condemnation for organic farming, GMO-free Made in Italy and agroecology‘, according to the GMO-Free Italy Coalition. ‘A threat to the rights of farmers and consumers, without protection against the risks of contamination of crops and foods with new GMOs’, comments Greenpeace.

1) NGTs, new GMOs, deregulation advances

The MEPs of the ENVI Commission approved with 47 votes in favor, 31 against and 4 abstentions the report by Jessica Polfjärd (European People’s Party, EPP) on the proposal deregulation of new GMOs adopted on 5 July 2024 by the European Commission. This proposal, as we have seen, aims to:

– affirm a criterion of equivalence, without any scientific basis, between traditional plants and category 1 NGTs; (1)

– exclude the obligations of prior authorisation, traceability and labeling of the new GMOs referred to above;

– introduce a simplified risk assessment procedure for other NGTs (category 2);

– prevent Member States from maintaining or introducing restrictions and bans on the use of new GMOs on their territories. (2)

The European Parliament then worsened the situation by proposing to abolish the ban on the use of new GMOs in organic farming. (3)

2) Political alignments

The support  to the deregulation of the new ones GM, or NGTs, comes from the political groups EPP (European People’s Party), ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) and ID (Identity and Democracy, albeit with two abstentions).

Varied positions between the S&D MEPs (Socialists and Democrats. With a vote in favor of Achille Variati and abstention by Alessandra Moretti, among others) and the pro-European liberals of Renew (ALDE).

Antonyms across the board, however, the representatives of the left (the Left) and the greens (Verts/ALE).

3) Concerns of the scientific community

ANSES (Agence Nationale Sécurité Sanitaire Alimentaire Nationale, France) published a scientific opinion – on 21 December 2023, as seen (4) – which underlines the unfoundedness of the assertion of equivalence of ‘category 1 NGTs’ with plants derived from conventional techniques.

The international scientific community in turn – in two positions signed by hundreds of researchers and university professors, as we have seen (4) – has in turn expressed concrete concerns regarding the effects of deregulation on biodiversity, the environment, animal health and plants.

The preventive assessment of the risks associated with the deliberate introduction of new GMOs into the environment is a must, scientists explain, in the face of potential disruptive effects on the biochemistry and physiology of the plant, as well as on the environment, which would otherwise be unpredictable.

4) Positions of civil society

The GMO-Free Italy Coalition – made up of 41 peasant and organic agriculture, environmentalist, trade union and consumer organizations (5) – expresses strong opposition to the position expressed by the ENVI Commission of the European Parliament on the deregulation of new GMOs obtained with New Genomic Techniques (NGTs).

Deliberate ignorance of the precautionary principle, with preventive renunciation ex law to the necessary risk assessment from a One Health perspective, exposes ecosystems and populations to dangers that cannot be accepted precisely because they are unpredictable and uncontrollable. We must therefore stop the process of deregulation and start a public debate on the future of agriculture in Europe.

Farmersfurthermore, risk suffering contamination of non-GMO crops by NGTs, including through pollination, and also being forced to pay their royalties. ‘The question is: who will pay for any damage caused by genetic pollution in a country like Italy, which has made GMO-free production its flagship in the world?

5) Patent issue

The amendment approved in the ENVI Commission, where the non-patentability of genetic traits obtained through NGTs is assumed, is then completely unrealistic (6). The ban on patenting in fact requires a substantial reform of the European Patent Convention, with the adhesion of all the member states. Impossible, given the opposing interests of the four corporations that dominate the global pesticide and seed market. (7)

Deregulation would benefit large seed and agrochemical companies such as Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, Corteva, and Syngenta, resulting in further concentration of control over the food and seed system. All this with the cover of a part of the scientific world, which is financed by stipulating agreements for the licensing of technologies for genome modification to the main multinationals’.

6) Next steps

The relationship of the ENVI Commission will go to the vote of the European Parliament perhaps already in the plenary session of 5-8 February 2024. The proposal will then be the subject of negotiations with the European Commission and the Council, whose current Belgian presidency is trying to reach an agreement after the vain attempts of the previous Spanish presidency. (8)

On the horizon meanwhile we can glimpse plants with insertions of animal genes, such as ‘Piggy Sooy’, (9) and GMO wheat resistant to a neurotoxic pesticide which could put an end to the identity of the cereal protagonist of the millenary culture of the Old Continent. (10) Perhaps soon on our tables, thanks to reckless politicians who negotiate on nucleotides.

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo. New GMOs, NGTs. The European Commission’s deregulation proposalGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.7.23

(2) Category-1 NGTs are those made with no more than 20 different genetic insertions per plant (up to 20 nucleotides), any number of DNA deletions or inversions, and the introduction of DNA sequences from the so-calledreproductive gene pool‘, other than genetic manipulations for ‘herbicide resistant’ use

(3) Dario Dongo. New GMOs in organic farming? The proposal of the European ParliamentGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 28.10.23

(4) Dario Dongo. NGTs, new GMOs. Scientists and ANSES expose the risks of deregulationGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.12.23

(5) The position of the GMO-Free Italy Coalition is shared by the Association of Consumer Users, Agorà degli Inhabitants of the Earth, AIAB, AltragricolturaBio, ASCI, Assobio, Association for Biodynamic Agriculture, Italian Rural Association, Attac Italia, Crocevia International Centre, Rural Civilization, Cultivating by Sharing, Quarantina Consortium, ZeroOgm Coordination, CUB, Deafal, Demeter, Equivita, Égalité, European Consumers Aps, Fairwatch, National Pro Natura Federation, Federbio, FIRAB, Fondazione Seminare il Futuro, Greenpeace, ISDE, Legambiente, Lipu, Navdanya International, RIES – Italian Solidarity Economy Network, Reorient, Ress, Seed Vicious, Slow food Italy, Terra!, Terra Nuova, Transform! Italy, USB, Verdi Environment and Society, WWF.

(6) Greenpeace European Unit. The Commission proposal on the deregulation of “new GMO” plants: an attack on EU law, consumers and farmers’ rights, and on Member States’ right to regulate GMO cultivation. January 2024 http://tinyurl.com/2s4pfwr7

(7) Dario Dongo. Seeds, the 4 masters of the worldGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 15.1.19

(8) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. New GMOs, member states hesitate on deregulationGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 11.12.23

(9) Dario Dongo. Molecular agriculture, GMO soy with pig genesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.1.24

(10) Dario Dongo. GMO HB4 wheat conquers the worldGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 29.12.23

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.