In the last decade, new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) have emerged as an agricultural solution. These innovative solutions are designed to allow the development of new varieties of plants, through modifying the DNA of the plant cells and the seeds.
However, in July last year, the ECJ ruled that plants that are bred using these techniques should fall under the GMO directive, sparking intense debate among the industry and farmers. They argue that the decision would harm competitiveness.
Others, like environmentalists, organic farmers, and supporters of the organic farming movement, hailed the move. Their argument is that “hidden GMOs” can be harmful, and without proper legislation, could enter and be sold in Europe.
But who is right?
According to a report by the EU organic farmers’ movement (IFOAM), attempting to exclude new plant breeding techniques from the GMO legislation could be harmful to consumers, as well as to farmers, processors, and others in the industry.
In a statement, IFOAM said: “If new genetic engineering techniques would be out of the scope of the EU legislation on GMOs, it would lead to the release of genetically modified organisms in the environment and the food chain without assessment, prior authorization and traceability.”
“Such a situation would make it almost impossible for organic farmers and conventional GMO-free farmers to exclude the presence of GMOs in their production process and to live up to the expectations of consumers.”
Those campaigning for a separate framework for NPBTs believe that, unlike GMOs, no foreign DNA is added, so should be treated differently. In addition, they say that many of these processes could occur naturally in food production.
In a recent interview, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis commented on the matter, saying that there is a lot of “scare-mongering” surrounding the issue and that the latest technologies need to be taken into account when deciding how to legislate NPBTs.
EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, expressed a similar view. “The vast majority of ministers are looking for a Commission initiative in order to deal with this legal situation resulted from the recent ECJ judgment,” he said.
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