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Deregulation of New GMOs (NGTs) in Europe: An unjustified risk to burden citizens

Press Release

The ENVI Committee at the European Parliament recently approved new rules for Genetically Modified Organisms labelled under the New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) category. Before the plenary casts a final vote in the second week of February, BeeLife reminds MEPs and all stakeholders about the troubling controversy surrounding the proposed deregulation of NGTs. The approved text stipulates that some NGTs (NGT 1) are considered equivalent to conventional plants, exempting them from GMO legislation. But what is the definition of a conventional plant, with which NGT-derived plants must nevertheless be compared? The result is an arbitrary decision that jeopardises environmental health and conditions for pollinators. 

The effects of releasing GMO plants into the environment require sufficient risk assessment and subsequent monitoring. ENVI Committee's decision to accept the European Commission's proposal to deregulate some NGTs under Category 1 pursues a risky tactic that lacks scientific backing. The ANSES, the health and food safety agency in France, has already remarked on the vague language in the proposal and insufficient consideration of the "changes in the biological functions of plants" (1). Dismissing legal procedures for risk evaluation and monitoring of the plant for NGT 1 disregards the necessary tools to monitor their impact, thus increasing the vulnerability of affected ecosystems and populations.

A troublesome development, the exemption of the NGT 1 category from more demanding procedures under GMO legislation, will also create a void in accountability. NGT 1 accounts for an estimated 90% of the NGT-GMOs in the pipeline. Therefore, insufficient documentation and weak or no risk assessment will accompany many future plants introduced in our fields. Regardless of overly optimistic remarks such as those of MEP and rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd, who states that "we finally have a chance to implement rules that embrace innovation", this decision echoes past mistakes that hamper rather than enhance sustainability. 

For instance, insecticide neonicotinoid-coated seeds were approved decades back with insufficient risk assessment. Just as is being proposed for NGT 1, neonicotinoids were introduced on the market without the possibility of being detected or monitored. Just as the Commission now proposes for NGT 1, the burden of proof for safety breaches lies on citizens' shoulders (including researchers). Neonicotinoids were not subject to adequate risk assessment, producing disastrous effects. It took 15 years for institutions to initiate corrective measures by investing millions in public research on the ecological impacts of neonicotinoids before authorities banned them. Under the present proposal moving forward in the legislative process after ENVI's vote, a significant fraction of crops modified with NGTs will not be subject to risk assessment at all. Insufficient risk assessment for NGTs is of great concern for citizens, particularly beekeepers who will stand in the frontline, with their bees not only directly exposed to NGT plants but also as possible disseminating agents. Regarding this last aspect, the proposal does not solve the question of intellectual property rights or contamination (which already happened in the past outside of Europe). These conditions affect beekeepers, who must neither bear the costs nor the responsibility.  

We are in the face of a new risk where lack of accountability reigns. With the current NGT proposal, no one will be liable in practice for the potential problems provoked by over 90% of the NGT-GMOs in the pipeline. If conditions turn for the worse and the modified biological functions of NGTs provoke, for instance, increased collapses of honeybee colonies and detectable environmental deterioration, who are beekeepers and citizens to turn to? EU institutions should prioritise following the precautionary principle and the scientific bases on which its foundations are built (2). Doing otherwise risks undermining their efforts towards sustainability and producing an effective EU Green Deal. We call for MEPs to consider these arguments before the upcoming plenary session.

(2) European Parliament. 2012. CONSOLIDATED VERSION OF THE TREATY ON THE FUNCTIONING OF THE EUROPEAN UNION. (Official Journal of the European Union). 


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