New genetic engineering: Scientists oppose EU Commission proposal

Warning of danger to health and the environment

5 December 2023 / A number of European scientists have issued a joint statement warning against approval in the EU of plants obtained from new genetic engineering (New GE or new genomic techniques, NGT) that are not risk assessed. The signatories all work in the fields of, amongst others, molecular biology, technology assessment, environmental sciences and medicine. None of them have any economic interests linked to the development and marketing of genetically engineered organisms.

The experts from Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK are opposing a legislative proposal brought forward by the EU Commission, which would in future allow the environmental release of plants obtained from new genetic engineering without prior risk assessment. They point out that the proposed legislation ignores the main differences between new genetic engineering and conventional breeding as well as the associated risks.

Besides warning of overloading ecosystems with organisms that have not evolved naturally, they are also warning in their joint statement of dangers to health and the environment. The core statement reads: “The proposal made by the Commission cannot ensure health or environmental safety if NGT plants or products derived thereof are released into the environment or placed on the EU market. Therefore, the proposal as it stands should be rejected or extensively revised.”

The scientists emphasise that earlier genetic engineering methods involved the transfer of genes across individual plant or species boundaries to achieve new traits (transgenic). Now, however, NGTs make it possible to change the traits of a species to an extent that would be impossible, or at least very unlikely, using conventional breeding, even without the insertion of additional genes.

Furthermore, they state that it is scientifically incorrect to assume that any risks to humans or the environment from NGT plants are generally lower compared to transgenic plants. Therefore, in both cases (transgenic and NGT plants) the risks to health and the environment need to be assessed prior to any releases taking place.

The signatories represent a significant number of scientists in Europe with relevant expertise who undertake independent research on the risks of new genetic engineering from the perspective of health and the environment. The scientists invited to sign the letter do not work for administrative bodies and are independent of biotech industry.

The aforementioned scientists are not alone in their criticism: more than 70 scientists recently signed a letter to the EU Commission criticising the planned EU directive from a socio-economic perspective. They also called for the EU Commission proposal to be rejected.

Christoph Then,, Tel + 49 151 54638040