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New Genomic Techniques:

Europe closer to adopting new rules for some NGT plants

To make our food system more sustainable and resilient, MEPs support new rules for some NGT plants, but those not equivalent to conventional plants must follow stricter rules. The Committee on Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety adopted its position on the Commission's proposal on New Genomic Techniques (NGT), with 47 votes to 31 and 4 abstentions.

MEPs agree with the proposal to have two different categories and two sets of rules for NGT plants. NGT plants considered equivalent to conventional ones (NGT 1 plants) would be exempted from the requirements of the GMO legislation, whereas for NGT 2 plants, this legislation adapts the GMO framework to those NGT plants. Crispr-Cas engineered plants are considered as NGT 1 plants, as the results are equivalent to conventional bred varieties.

MEPs also agree that all NGT plants should remain prohibited in organic production as their compatibility requires further consideration.

NGT 1 plants
For NGT 1 plants, MEPs amended the proposed rules on the size and number of modifications needed for an NGT plant to be considered equivalent to conventional plants. MEPs also want NGT seeds to be labeled accordingly and to set up a public online list of all NGT 1 plants.

While there would be no mandatory labeling at the consumer level for NGT 1 plants, MEPs want the Commission to report on how consumers' and producers' perceptions of the new techniques evolve seven years after entering into force.

NGT 2 plants
For NGT 2 plants, MEPs agree to maintain GMO legislation requirements, including mandatory labeling of products.

To incentivize their uptake, MEPs also agree to an accelerated procedure for risk assessment, taking into account their potential to contribute to a more sustainable agri-food system but underline that the so-called precautionary principle must be respected.

Ban on all patents filed for NGT plants
MEPs amended the proposal to introduce a full ban on patents for all NGT plants, plant material, parts thereof, genetic information, and process features they contain to avoid legal uncertainties, increased costs, and new dependencies for farmers and breeders. MEPs also request a report by June 2025 on the impact of patents on breeders' and farmers' access to varied plant reproductive material, as well as a legislative proposal to update EU rules on intellectual property rights accordingly.

After the vote, rapporteur Jessica PolfjÀrd (EPP, SE) said: "This proposal is critical for strengthening Europe's food safety in a sustainable manner. We finally have a chance to implement rules that embrace innovation, and I look forward to concluding negotiations in the Parliament and with the Council as soon as possible."

Next steps
Parliament is scheduled to adopt its mandate during the 5-8 February 2024 plenary session, after which it is ready to start negotiations with EU member states.

NGTs are a variety of techniques that alter the genetic material of an organism. Currently, all plants obtained by NGTs are subject to the same rules as GMOs, which are among the strictest in the world. NGTs could help to make our food system more sustainable and resilient by developing improved plant varieties that are climate resilient, pest resistant, give higher yields, or that require fewer fertilizers and pesticides.

Several NGT products are already or in the process of becoming available on the market outside the EU (e.g. bananas in the Philippines that do not go brown, with the potential to reduce food waste and CO2 emissions). The European Food Safety Authority has evaluated the potential safety issues of NGTs.

Source: European Parliament

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