In the EU, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are strictly regulated, by a legal framework, which - according to the EU Commission’s website - aims to protect human and animal health and the environment, by having a safety assessment “of the highest possible standards” at EU level before any product is placed on the market. It also ensures:
- harmonised procedures for risk assessment and authorisation of GMOs that are efficient, time-limited and transparent.
- clear labelling of GMOs placed on the market in order to enable consumers as well as professionals as (e.g. farmers, and food feed chain operators) to make an informed choice.
- the traceability of GMOs placed on the market.
What does the law say about New GMOs?
New GMOs, those created by what are known as “New Genomic Techniques” (NGTs), such as CRISPR, are regulated by this same legal framework. This has been clarified by the highest European court, in July 2018 when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that all products stemming from new genetic engineering methods are GMOs. For New and old GMOs the same EU legislation, therefore, applies.
The European Commission’s road to deregulation
In September 2021, however, the European Commission officially started its deregulation process of New GMOs launching an inception impact assessment. The European Commission wants to exclude plants derived from targeted mutagenesis and cisgenesis from the existing EU GMO legislation. This would undermine the ECJ’s ruling, contradict the precautionary principle and eliminate risk assessments as well as traceability and labelling requirements for approximately 95% of all new GM plants currently in the development pipeline.
The status quo: puts food safety and freedom of choice first
The status quo means that old and New GMOs are subject to authorisation procedures with a food safety and environmental risk assessment before coming on the market. After market authorisation, the EU GMO legislation ensures detectability, traceability and labelling of GMOs – and thus safety, transparency and freedom of choice for breeders, farmers, food and feed producers, food retailers and consumers. Business operators keep control over their food and feed production value chains, the European food sector (producers and retailers) does not run the risk of selling untested and invisible GMOs to unwitting consumers.
Last but not least, the current EU GMO regulation is balanced – it enables authorisation and placing on the market of GMOs and it allows those that want to, to avoid them. Throughout the entire food sector, the trend is towards more transparency; why then do the proponents of New GMOs (and it seems the European Commission) want to hide GMOs? It would be impossible to convey to a predominantly GMO-critical public that there is a backward step in transparency in a technology as controversial as genetic engineering.
Bearing in mind the advantages outlined above, ENGA sees no justification for a deregulation of New GMOs. ENGA is, therefore, calling on the European Commission to respect the ruling of the ECJ and support members states in implementing the current EU GMO legislation for new genomic techniques.