“New GMOs”: Debate in the European Parliament on New Genomic Techniques

The Environment Committee has voted to ease the rules governing certain genetic biotechnologies, a position that divides the 27 members. Why is the European Parliament looking into this issue? And first of all, what are these “new GMOs”?

There is no addition of foreign DNA. NGTs, or “new genomic techniques”, correspond to various methods. This can involve gene transfer, but this transfer occurs within the same species or between crossable species.

There are also targeted genome modification techniques using Crispr-Cas9, a kind of molecular scissors. Their opponents are concerned about consequences they deem still too unpredictable, such as the risk of contamination to other fields, including fields cultivated in organic agriculture. However, since a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2018, they are regulated in the EU under the same regulations as GMOs.

They have been divided into two categories. In the first, seeds and products that present modifications that can occur naturally or through natural crossbreeding. The text voted on by the members of the Environment Committee foresees that, in this case, the strict rules governing GMOs would no longer apply.

If they only involve a limited number of mutations, they would be considered equivalent to conventional varieties. Registering them in a public database would suffice. The second category, encompassing other NGT varieties, would remain subject to GMO regulations.

This entails lengthy authorization procedures, health impact studies, and product labeling. The ban on patents for NGTs has garnered agreement from all parliamentary groups. This should prevent farmers from becoming dependent on certain companies.

The possibility of having labeled “organic” NGT products is, on the contrary, under debate, as well as the fact that the labeling requirement only applies to seeds. Member States will also need to reach an agreement. They failed to do so last December.

About fifteen states, including France, support these technologies, while others such as Germany and Austria are concerned about the possibility of coexistence with “organic” agriculture.

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