NGT plants: Joint Statement for scientifically based risk assessment

25. June 2024

Warning that Belgian government wants to rush through a radical deregulation

Today, European organisations, including environmental organisations, farmers, beekeepers and Non-GE food producers, released a joint statement, calling for a robust and scientifically based regulation for plants obtained by new genetic engineering (also called new genomic techniques, NGT). The organisations call upon the EU Member States to reject a proposal tabled by the Belgian Presidency to deregulate NGT plants. There is a possibility that the Member States might take a vote on Wednesday, just shortly before the end of the Belgian Council Presidency.

The call is signed by Agrolink Association (Bulgaria), Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL, Germany), ARGE Gentechnikfrei (Austria), Aurelia Foundation (Germany), Biodynamic Federation Demeter International e.V., BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), Deutscher Berufs und Erwerbs Imker Bund e.V., Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Earth Trek (Zemljane staze, Croatia), European Non-GMO Industry Association (ENGA), Gen-ethisches Netzwerk e.V. (Germany), IFOAM Organics Europe, Nature & Progrès Belgique, Plataforma Transgénicos Fora (Portugal), Save Our Seeds! (SOS, Germany), SITO seeds (Greece) and Testbiotech (Germany). 

The organisations demand that the regulation of NGTs should, also in future, foresee mandatory risk assessment in each case. It should allow to keep oversight and enable monitoring for all plants after being introduced into the market. The cultivation and production of food should be separated in order to protect producers using traditional non-GE methods. The regulation should also foresee to trace, track and label the final products.

The proposals that have been put forward by the Belgian government, the EU Commission or EU Parliament do not achieve these goals. Therefore, the organisations demand that the EU Member States now should discuss a proposal made by the French competent authority ANSES.

The ANSES proposal provides a decision tree that works within the current GMO regulation and allows to adapt approval processes and monitoring to the evolving field of NGT plants. According to this proposal, a step-by-step risk assessment can be used to actually speed up decision-making: It starts with the usual first steps of risk assessment, namely molecular characterisation and analysis of plant composition. The outcome can be used to take decisions which further data will be needed to finalize the risk assessment.

The decision-making tree may correspond to the Commission’s goal to adapt the approval process for different levels of risks. Furthermore, the proposal would allow to oversee and monitor the scale of releases. In addition, transparency, coexistence and consumer choice would be upheld. In summary, the proposal of ANSES follows the idea to adapt current regulation to the specificity of NGTs without putting at risk the advantages of the current legal framework.

Testbiotech warns that the proposal as tabled by the Belgian government would result in an even more radical deregulation of NGT plants if compared to the original Commission text: It would drastically expand the number of genetic alterations allowed in NGT plants without requiring risk assessment. For example, in case of wheat which inherits 6 or 8 sets of chromosomes, up to 120 or 160 genetic changes instead of 20 (as originally proposed by the Commission) would be allowed without risk assessment. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), in a previous opinion, exemplified that this is not science based: In the case of gluten reduced NGT wheat with 35 genetic changes, the EFSA came to the conclusion that the large number of mutations is far beyond any plant previously assessed and would require new approaches in risk assessment.

Testbiotech is of the opinion that neither the number of 20 nor 160 genetic changes are a solid basis to take any conclusions on safety. Instead of formalistic criteria, in each case, reliable data must be provided by the company for a step-by-step risk assessment.

Contact:

Christoph Then, info@testbiotech.org, Tel + 49 151 54638040

Further information:

The joint statement

The proposal made by ANSES

Inofficial English translation of the ANSES proposal

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