Brussels is finalizing a law to legalize new gene-editing technologies for crops across the European Union.
The EU’s ultra-strictive GMO regulation, which predates new technologies, sets extremely high barriers to growing GM crops and allows EU countries to ban them even after they have been proven safe.
The new law aims to cut red tape and allow easier market access for plants grown with ‘novel genomic techniques’ (NGTs), such as CRISPR-Cas9, which target specific genes without necessarily introducing genetic material from outside the genetic pool of breeders.
The rules are being pushed by multinationals such as Bayer, Syngenta and Corteva, which together control the lion’s share of the plant breeding industry, as well as a host of smaller companies, scientists and farming groups such as Copa-Cogeca.
They argue that the EU risks falling behind the rest of the world in using new crops with special characteristics that can make them more nutritious, efficient and better adapted to a changing climate.
Against them are green lawmakers, environmental advocacy groups, organic and small farmers and more than 400,000 EU citizens who have signed an agreement petition against the deregulation of what they call « new GMOs ».
These groups say the rules will further tighten the grip of the fist of multinational corporations, allowing them to claim patents on crops that could have been obtained through conventional farming methods, while threatening non-GM and organic production. They also argue that because NGTs have only been around for a little over a decade, questions remain about their safety.
According to a leaked draft, EU countries will no longer be able to ban the cultivation of NGT crops.
The law further simplifies the rules for a subset of NGT crops that are deemed equivalent to crops grown using traditional farming techniques. The requirement to label foods as « GMO » will no longer apply to these « conventional-like » plants and will not be subject to risk assessment by food safety regulators.
An earlier draft law called for a cut for crops designed to tolerate herbicides, which would still be subject to stricter GMO rules. However, a more recent draft no longer makes that distinction.
The European Commission is expected to present the proposed law on genetically modified crops on Wednesday, as part of the latest package of measures under the Green Deal agenda for the environment and sustainability. This will include a new soil health law, revisions to food waste and textiles aspects European Union Waste Framework Directiveand legislation on seeds and other plant and forest reproductive material.