Proponents of New GMOs (and those pushing for their deregulation) often put forward the argument that GMOs could help to solve some of the huge environmental problems that we face: climate change, drought, biodiversity loss etc. But this is a mere claim and not substantiated by facts. Currently New GMOs are hypothetical crops, not a market reality.
Greenwashing by big biotech
In fact, this is a clear example of biotech, big seed companies and their lobbyists, using greenwashing to push for a deregulation; in other words: using sustainability arguments to try to win the overall argument, even though they have no proof for their claims.
To start with, there is no EU definition of sustainability. This is expected in the fourth quarter 2023 in the sustainable food systems framework, half a year later than the legislative proposal for New GMOs. Without such mandatory, verifiable criteria no proof of the claim is possible. Unfortunately, biotech companies and the European Commission act in an unholy alliance. Both repeat the sustainability claim for GMOs without providing any proof of their claim.
Not a magic pill
The sustainability debate when it comes to genome editing techniques revolves around the argument that the right technique, creating the right plants will be the silver bullet solution for all problems linked to agriculture. Such a narrow focus on GMOs as a “magic pill” brings with it the danger of seeking a simple technical solution to complex problems. Resilience and diversity of agricultural systems are far more important for the adaptation of plants to global warming than the fixation on the genome of a plant. This approach also risks continuing a system of agriculture with problematic impacts on the environment and society and prevents looking for real, sustainable solutions. A resilient and healthy entire agro-ecosystem is more important for long-term stable harvests, in the wake of climate change, than isolated, genetically modified DNA segments. And, so far, not a single GMO has ever contributed to a sustainable food system.
New GMOs encourage the use of pesticides
In fact, quite the opposite, GMOs encourage the use of pesticides in agriculture. One of the only three New GMOs on the market (in the US, Canada and Japan) is an herbicide-resistant crop. And the first EU authorisation application is for an herbicide-resistant plant. This is in direct contradiction to the EU’s own aim to reduce the use of pesticides.
Consumers don’t see GMOs as sustainable
Certainly, the sustainability angle will not wash with consumers. According to a BEUC study consumers see “sustainability” as a synonym for environmentally friendly, without GMOs and pesticides, and local.