Calls for mandatory risk assessment intensify
12 December 2023 / The EU agriculture ministers did not approve the proposal to deregulate plants derived from new genetic engineering (New GE, also new genomic techniques, NGT) at their meeting on 11 December. The Spanish EU Council Presidency put the regulatory proposal to the vote with only minor amendments. If approved, the Commission proposal would allow the release and marketing of genetically engineered plants, e. g. plants altered with CRISPR/Cas gene scissors, without prior mandatory risk assessment. Several agriculture ministers very clearly disagreed with the proposal, and demanded that the risks must be examined on a case-by-case basis before any approval is granted.
In a recent interview published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), the German Federal Minister for the Environment, Steffi Lemke, also pointed out that it is essential for genetically engineered plants to be risk assessed, and that processes integral to New GE technology cannot be equated to conventional breeding.
The Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GfÖ) also made a statement warning against the environmental risks of genetically engineered plants. As the planned deregulation explicitly affects all plant species, i.e. up to 300,000 species, there could be a massive and uncontrolled spread of NGT plants in nature, which could affect many wild plants and even entire ecosystems.
A recent statement taking a similar line was made by another group of scientists dealing with the regulation of genetically engineered organisms from the perspective of protecting people and the environment. They warn that the Commission proposal does not guarantee safety in the handling of NGT plants.
In addition, a Federal Agency for Nature Conservation publication shows that almost all plants obtained from new genetic engineering would be exempt from the previously mandatory risk assessment under the planned new regulation. This publication has been submitted to a scientific journal for peer-review.
Testbiotech hopes that the risks associated with New GE plants will be fully taken into account in further discussions. The lead environment committee at the European Parliament will be voting on the Commission proposal in the near future. Testbiotech is concerned that the Parliament will focus mainly on the economic consequences, and only superficially brush over the issues of risks to health and the environment, as these are particularly complex.
Christoph Then, email@example.com, Tel + 49 151 54638040