New genetic engineering (NGT): EU Parliament in the maze

Absurd amendments proposed by the rapporteur

17 January 2024 / There is increasing confusion in the European Parliament about the future regulation of plants derived from new genetic engineering (NGT). The rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd’s (EPP) most recent proposed amendments lack sufficient scientific basis and would turn mandatory risk assessment of NGT plants into a rare exception. In addition, the non-realistic hope is encouraged that NGT plants could be exempted from patent protection.

In current documents, the rapporteur proposes that only those NGT plants that produce new, 'chimeric' or altered proteins should be subjected to mandatory risk assessment. The problem: New genetic engineering typically is used to switch off specific plant genes. In result, NGT plants can exhibit characteristics and risks that go far beyond the results of breeding and the characteristics of the natural species. However, it is by no means necessary for NGT plants to form new, 'chimeric' or altered  proteins to exhibit such traits.

There are numerous examples of drastic changes in NGT plants, such as blood pressure-lowering (GABA) tomatoes, camelina for agrofuel, newly domesticated tomatoes, and early-flowering poplars. In none of these cases, however, the plants are intended to produce new, 'chimeric' or altered proteins. In order to examine the risks of these plants, their intended and unintended genetic changes would have to be examined. However, according to the rapporteur's proposal, in none of the mentioned cases, this would be mandatory in future.

In contrast, authorities from various member states such as France, Austria and Germany, as well as independent scientific expert groups, have come to the conclusion that NGT plants such as GABA tomatoes must be thoroughly examined for their risks on a case-by-case basis.

Testbiotech also analysed the rapporteur's proposals to prevent patents on NGT plants and comes to the conclusion that these proposals would be largely ineffective. In addition, the proposal of the rapporteur fails to limit patents to the technical processes. Without adequate legal provisions, CRISPR patents can be extended to conventional breeding.

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 151 54638040