NGT deregulation proposal stumbles in Council, but not in Parliament's AGRI Committee


No qualified majority in AGRIFISH Council for Spanish presidency's proposal to widely deregulate NGTs

On 11 December 2023, the Spanish EU Council Presidency failed in its attempt to gain a sufficient majority of member states for a proposal to widely deregulate new GMOs (New Genomic Techniques or NGTs). According to a representative of the Spanish Presidency, they will now try to achieve a qualified majority during a meeting of EU ambassadors on 21 or 22 December. If no qualified majority for a common member states’ position is achieved under the Spanish term of office, the Belgian Presidency will take over from January 2024.

All eyes are now on Poland, whose new government (which took office on 13 December) could vote in favour of a deregulation, in contrast to the old government which was against. If Poland, as a populous member state, changes its position while all other states maintain their position, the blocking minority would be jeopardized.

Blocking minority

On the AGRIFISH Council the Spanish Presidency was hoping to get a qualified majority for a “general approach” during the last meeting of EU agriculture ministers under its presidency. A general approach sets out the member states’ negotiating line with the European Parliament and the European Commission.

But Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia raised major concerns and Germany and Bulgarian abstained. This opposition prevented a qualified majority from being reached. Qualified majority means a combination of 55% of member states vote in favour (or against) – in practice, 15 out of 27 – as well as member states representing at least 65% of the total EU population. An abstention counts as “no”, therefore Germany’s abstention was particularly important because of the population element.

The Spanish Presidency’s position

The adoption of the Spanish Presidency’s proposal would have meant an agreement on:
•    abolishing of risk assessment for about 95% of new GMOs (category 1 NGTs)
•    abolishing consumers’ right to know as defined in the European treaties as well as in the EU’s general food law. By excluding the majority of new GMOs from traceability and labelling requirements, consumers as well as business operators will be kept in the dark whether food and feed contains new GMOs or not
•    abolishing the obligation for marketers of new GMOs to deliver a detection method for each new GMO they develop
•    all costs and burden to exclude new GMOs from value chains would lie with those who doesn’t want use new GMOs
•    no protection against contamination of GMO-free agriculture and food production with new GMOs.

Major concerns of member states

The main political open issues are coexistence measures (measures that enable an agriculture and food production with and without new GMOs, i.e. measures that avoid or at least restrict contamination of GMO-free production), the possibility for member states to exclude cultivation of NGT category 2 plants on their territory, the impact of NGT patents on breeding, agriculture and food production and how to deal with it, voluntary ‘sustainable’  labelling of NGT category 2 products and exclusion of herbicide resistance as a trait from NGT category 1 plants.

Vote in AGRI Committee

Also on 11 December, the European Parliament’s AGRI Committee voted on the proposal. While the ENVI committee has the lead on the file, it does share competence on several key areas, including on the status of category 1 NGT plants. Most members of the AGRI Committee are from center right, right, and far right parties.

The AGRI Committee’s report, led by Czech rapporteur Veronika Vrecionová from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, supported the position of Sweden's Jessica Polfjärd from the European People's Party, who's leading the ENVI Committee’s work on the proposal. The ENVI rapporteur proposed to remove any transparency rules for category 1 NGTs (about 95% of all new GMOs) and the NGT ban in organic farming.  

The AGRI Committee adopted an amendment (no. 408) tabled by Renew that is explicitly against any transparency and freedom of choice for consumers – both, a “with NGT” label and a “Non-NGT” label shall be prohibited: “It shall be prohibited to label consumer products as containing NGT products or having been developed using NGT. It shall furthermore be prohibited to use ‘negative labelling’ by labelling products as not containing or not having been developed using NGT.”

What’s next?
On 24 January 2024 ENVI as the Parliament’s lead Committee will vote on the proposal, and the first reading in the Parliament’s plenary vote is scheduled for the second week in February.

The AGRIFISH Council then discusses the EP's position and decides whether it agrees or wants to make changes. If it agrees, the legislative procedure is completed; if it wishes to make amendments, negotiations between Parliament, Council and Commission continue.