Monday, February 26, 2024

Europe to adapt rules for new gene tech 

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‘New genomic techniques’ to be governed by two protocols, one stricter than the other.
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The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has voted on a new regulatory framework for new genomic techniques.

New genomic techniques (NGT) are a variety of techniques that alter the genetic material of an organism. 

Currently, all plants obtained by NGT are subject to the same rules as genetically modified organisms, which are among the strictest in the world. 

NGT could help to make the food system more sustainable and resilient by developing improved plant varieties that are climate resilient, pest resistant, give higher yields or that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides.

Several NGT products are already, or are in the process of becoming, available on the market outside the European Union (for example, bananas in the Philippines that do not go brown, with the potential to reduce food waste and CO2 emissions). 

The European Food Safety Authority has evaluated potential safety issues of NGT.

MEPs agree with the proposal to have two different categories and two sets of rules for NGT plants. 

NGT plants considered equivalent to conventional ones (NGT 1 plants) would be exempted from the requirements of the GMO legislation, whereas for NGT 2 plants this legislation adapts the GMO framework to those NGT plants.

MEPs also agree that all NGT plants should remain prohibited in organic production as their compatibility requires further consideration.

For NGT 1 plants, MEPs amended the proposed rules on the size and number of modifications needed for a NGT plant to be considered equivalent to conventional plants. 

MEPs also want NGT seeds to be labelled accordingly and to set up a public online list of all NGT 1 plants.

While there would be no mandatory labelling at consumer level for NGT 1 plants, MEPs want the commission to report on how consumers and producers’ perception of the new techniques is evolving, seven years after entry into force.

For NGT 2 plants, MEPs agree to maintain GMO legislation requirements, including mandatory labelling of products.

To incentivise their uptake, MEPs also agree to an accelerated procedure for risk assessment, taking into account their potential to contribute to a more sustainable agri-food system, but underline that the so-called precautionary principle must be respected.

MEPs amended the proposal to introduce a full ban on patents for all NGT plants, plant material, parts thereof, genetic information and process features they contain, to avoid legal uncertainties, increased costs and new dependencies for farmers and breeders. 

MEPs also request a report by June 2025 on the impact of patents on breeders’ and farmers’ access to varied plant reproductive material as well as a legislative proposal to update EU rules on intellectual property rights accordingly.

Rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd said :“This proposal is critical for strengthening Europe’s food safety in a sustainable manner. We finally have a chance to implement rules that embrace innovation and I look forward to concluding negotiations in the Parliament and with the Council as soon as possible.”

The European Parliament is scheduled to adopt its mandate during its February 5-8 plenary session, after which it is ready to start negotiations with EU member states.

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