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5th Dec 2022

Food shortage fears prompts call to de-regulate GMOs in EU

  • The EU Commission is expected to present its proposal on new genomic techniques early next year (Photo: M Shields Photography)
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Climate change, food insecurity and seasonal shortages have triggered calls to loosen regulation for genetically-modified food and seed technologies in the EU.

"We can help farmers by using innovation," the Czech agriculture minister Zdeněk Nekula, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Council presidency, said in a press conference on Friday (16 September).

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Nekula said new so-called genomic techniques can help make crops more resilient to drought, frost, diseases and pests.

"These solutions aren't expensive and they don't require investment worth billions. We only need to modify the old legislative framework, [to support] regulating modern breeding techniques," he added.

"We need modern rules that will make sure that our production is safe and environmentally sustainable," he said, calling current genetically-modified organism (GMO) rules a "limitation" for European farmers that are causing a brain drain to countries outside of the bloc.

The EU, he said, has a responsibility not only to feed its own people, but also as a world leader.

The EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said that the commission is ready to present a new proposal early next year — as previously announced in their Farm to Fork strategy.

"The commission proposal will be based on a solid impact assessment. We need to be careful. We must [ensure] no risk for public health, the environment [and] also for the economic interests of the farmers," he said.

"We must find the balance," Wojciechowski said — adding that organic farming should be protected from the potential consequences of the new mutations.

However, a 2018 ruling of the European Court of Justice emphasised similarities in the potential risks of this new generation of GMOs and their predecessors. It argued that exempting new techniques from the current EU regulation "would compromise the objective of protection" and "fail to respect the precautionary principle".

Current legislation imposes a pre-market authorisation on any GMO sold to consumers, following an assessment of risks for human health and the environment. The rules also make them subject to traceability, labelling, and monitoring obligations.

However, according to a commission study from April, the current regulation is not "fit for purpose" for new genomic techniques and needs to be amended to contribute to sustainable food systems.

Environmental groups have raised concerns over the upcoming commission proposal, warning that it could mean lowering standards for risk assessment and monitoring, or even forgo labelling requirements.

Last year, EUobserver revealed how the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) uncovered new lobbying techniques aimed at deregulating new GMOs via climate-friendly narratives.

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Deregulation of new GMO crops: science or business?

Academics and biotech research organisations with corporate interests have been leading the lobby campaign to deregulate new genomic techniques in the EU — using 'climate-friendly' and 'science-based' narratives, according to a report.

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