European Commission publishes summary report on public consultation on New Genomic Techniques


Following its public consultation on New Genomic Techniques, which was launched in April this year and ran for 12 weeks, the European Commission has published a “summary report” which outlines some key findings from the consultation.

There were some revealing answers in the report, especially in the light of the European Commission’s newly published (on 18th October) Work Plan for 2023 which officially announces its intention to present a legislative proposal to deregulate New GMOs, scheduled for the second half of 2023.

Risk assessment – food sector in favour

The view that the risk assessment requirements of the current GMO legislation should be maintained was expressed by 22% (480) of total respondents. According to the report, among the economic sectors, this view was expressed by the majority of organic and GM-free operators and the large majority of food retail/services; it was also the most selected reply of the food processing/manufacturing sector. 

Transparency via a physical label is key for majority of participants

According to the summary, views of respondents varied on how transparency for consumers and operators can be ensured for plants produced by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis. The most selected response was that transparency can be achieved via a physical label on the final product (29%).

On provision of information, the response that “products should not be allowed in the market when reliable analytical methods cannot be provided” was selected by the great majority of consumer and environmental organisations and the majority of NGOs; it was also the most selected view among citizens and trade unions. Among economic operators, the majority of the food retail/services sector, as well as the great majority of the organic and GM-free sector also expressed this view. 

Who participated in the public consultation?

Overall, 2,300 contributions were submitted. Most respondents self-identified as ‘EU citizen’ (1491; 65.1%), followed by academic/research institutions (206; 9.0 %), company/business organisations (179; 7.8%) and business associations (122; 5.3%), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (81; 3.7%), non-EU citizens (38; 1.7%), public authorities (35; 1.5%), environmental organisations (20; 0.9%), trade unions (14; 0.6%), consumer organisations (5; 0.2%), and others (5; 0.2%). 

Participants from the economic sector self-identified as business associations, company/business organisations and trade unions (506); their field of activity is farming (103; 20.4%), plant breeding/seeds (97; 19.2%), organic sector and food processing/manufacturing (each 54; 10.7%), trade (46; 9.1%), biotechnology/bio-based industry (28; 5.5%), GM-free sector (24; 4.7%), feed (21; 4.2%), plant protection products/fertilisers (20; 3.9%), ornamental plants (15; 3.0%), other sectors (15; 3.0) and forestry ( 6; 1.2%).

Adequacy of the existing framework

Four out of five (1732; 79%) participants in the consultation found that the existing provisions of the GMO legislation are not adequate for plants obtained by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis. This view was expressed by the large majority of EU and non-EU citizens, academia/research institutions, business associations, companies/business organisations, and public authorities, as well as the majority of trade unions. Among the economic sectors, this view was expressed by the large majority of operators from biotechnology and bio-based industry, farming, feed, ornamental plants, plant breeding and plant protection and fertilisers, and by the majority of operators from trade and food processing/manufacture.

17% (375) of the total consultation respondents found the current GMO provisions adequate for plants produced by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis; this view was expressed by a large majority of environmental organisations, and by the majority of NGOs and consumer organisations. Among the economic sectors, this view was expressed by a large majority of operators in food retail/service, organic, GM-free and forestry.

Reasons behind the responses

Unsurprisingly, most of the responding scientists and academia/research institutions are in favour of a deregulation. As a new report reveals many scientists are actively involved in lobbying, have strong links with the seed industry and often have vested interest in the commercialisation of GM plants, meaning they stand to benefit from it financially or in terms of career development, either personally or via their organisations. 

As for the economic sector it is divided. The retail sector, including the Non-GMO and organic sector, is in favour of maintaining the existing framework, the seed, farming and biotech sectors, on the other hand, don’t find it adequate. This view is also shared by the majority of operators from food processing/manufacture. This seems a little bit strange and contradictory as the majority of food processors are in favour of maintaining the current risk assessment and transparency standards (see above). Consequently, it should follow that they support the current legislation …

Obviously, the responses depend on interests and - for economic operators - on their respective customers and their demands. This explains the critical attitude of the retail sector throughout. This is the sector that is closest to consumers and must prove itself at the point of sale. In contrast to food producers (and to scientists, seed producers, the farming and feed sectors, politicians) it will be retailers that will be confronted with critical enquiries and the anger of consumers should it come to a deregulation and untested and unlabelled New GMOs on supermarket shelves.

As ENGA has already made clear publicly and directly to the European Commission, the whole Impact Assessment process, including the public consultation, have been biased and fundamentally flawed from the outset. In a coalition with 40 organisations ENGA has called on the Commission to repeat parts of the Impact Assessment on new genomic techniques that fall short of the required standards.