22nd Feb 2024


The MEPs' vote on new GMOs that's a gift to corporations

  • Not a single government agency, or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), or anyone, has reviewed let alone vouched for this (Photo: reflets de vert)
Listen to article

On Wednesday (7 February) MEPs will vote in the Strasbourg plenary on a proposal that would scrap any safety checks for GMOs (NGTs), as well as labelling and traceability requirements. Many of these MEPs, I suspect, will scratch their heads a few times about the implications of this deregulation proposal.

A few things stand out. The European Parliament rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd's (of the centre-right European People's Party) report has no scientific basis but nevertheless make the deregulated group of NGTs ("Category 1") cover nearly all NGTs.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Consumers' rights and the rights of the non-GM sector will deteriorate. The parliament text says it will ban NGTs from being patented — however, this regulation can legally not achieve that.

But finally, decision-makers across the EU institutions are finally waking up to the fact that the deregulation of NGT crops and wild plants will make the EU fully in non-compliance with the UN Biosafety Protocol that is part of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

So how did we get here?

NGTs are crops made by new GM techniques like CRISPR-Cas. They are GMOs and are covered by the EU GMO rules as confirmed by the European Court of Justice (2018) that reasoned that lifting safety rules for NGTs would lead to unacceptable risks for environment and health.

But under immense biotech industry pressure, a deregulation proposal was drawn up by the EU Commission — in what was seen as a very biased process, that even led to a complaint to the EU ombudsman.

The commission proposal was almost universally condemned for having no scientific basis whatsoever (something the commission did not outright deny.)

To add insult to injury, according to the latest text, gene-edited microbes and even animals will be up for deregulation next. This is causing grave concerns among animal welfare organisations.

But Polfjärd's report has worsened the proposal in a key manner: based on the advice of one single professor, who was invited to some committee meetings, the rapporteur even further widened the scope for deregulation.

Now it makes even less sense in terms of risks. From a certain number of genetic changes per organism, it has gone up to more genetic changes per gene, and only one sort of gene.

Not a single government agency, or EFSA, or anyone, has reviewed let alone vouched for this. It is mind-boggling to realise: nothing in Polfjärd's proposal warrants any level of safety.]

Patent nonsense

A new GM crop — producing its own insecticide for instance — could now be rolled out without any safety check on thousands of hectares of farm land, with potentially great harm to pollinators.

NGT crops will also be patented. The consequences for farmers of patented crops are well-known. At times when thousands of farmers hit the streets calling for better revenues, the dependence on pesticide and seed firms like Bayer and BASF is a sensitive issue.

In the council, this is where it's currently blocked as governments have become wary about increasing market power of corporations like Bayer, Syngenta or BASF.

The Belgian presidency, with this issue being led by Liberal agriculture minister David Clarinval, seems intent to get Poland, one of the countries having strong doubts about what the NGT proposal will mean for farmers, to change its views.

That is why as we speak, biotech corporations are very busy targeting EU governments and staff of their Brussels' embassies with empty-bag proposals to ease these concerns.

However, patents are granted under the European Patent Convention, which is not an EU treaty. The European Patent Office in Munich already confirmed recently that NGTs are GMOs, and are therefore patentable.

EU decision makers are now facing another, so far underestimated, problem. As soon as NGT crops are traded across borders, the absence of any risk assessment and labelling of NGTs makes the EU and each member state fully in breach with the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Even when NGTs or GMOs are difficult to detect, they are still bound by the agreements under the Cartagena Protocol. This protocol is one of the pillars of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and being in non-compliance would greatly affect the credibility of the EU in international fora on biodiversity.

As a result, the export of EU agricultural products might get hampered as the safety of NGT crops has not been demonstrated, and labelling and traceability rules are not in place. This can create disputes as trade partners will not be notified nor provided with sufficient information on what the EU is exporting, as the protocol requires.

Let's be honest: this proposal is a gift to those corporations who want to increase their market share for commercial seeds. And let's not be naïve: companies like Bayer and BASF are not likely to turn agriculture pesticide-free with new crops.

MEPs better take these issues in consideration when deciding how to vote this week, because the Polfjärd report is rushed, not well thought-out, and clearly not serving the public.

Author bio

Nina Holland is a researcher at Corporate Europe Observatory in Brussels, the NGO monitoring EU political lobbying.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

Revealed: the new lobbying effort to deregulate GMOs

An investigation by Corporate Europe Observatory has uncovered how new lobbying strategies, aimed at deregulating modern genetic techniques are driven by academic and biotech research institutes with corporate interests - utilising 'climate-friendly' narratives.

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

EU-Israel trade agreement must be on table to stop Rafah attack

The EU-Israel association trade agreement enabled €46.8bn of trade last year. Exports rose for both parties by around 20 percent in 2022. As the bloc's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said: "Yes, we have the capacity to influence [Israel]."

Latest News

  1. EU auditors: rule-of-law budget protections only partial success
  2. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  3. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  4. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  5. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  6. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  7. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?
  8. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us