Brussels is planning to lift the controls on certain genetically modified plants to help farmers deal with climate change. This move will likely reignite an Europe-wide discussion about these controversial techniques.
The draft EU regulation suggests that many modified plants be approved as conventional, rather than going through the existing GMO regime of the EU. This is time-consuming and costly.
This plan would create a new category of plants that were created using gene editing, but could have been done through traditional breeding methods. These include wheats that are resistant to drought, tomatoes that are resistant to fungus, and potatoes with less acrylamide.
EU officials claim that the new techniques will help farmers maintain crop yields in the face of changing weather patterns such as floods and droughts. They will also reduce the use pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals. The proposal may still be altered before it is presented by the European Commission, on July 5.
EU official: “The science and evidence shows that these can also be achieved through conventional breeding of plants.”
The economic case is compelling. These techniques are essential if we want to combat climate change and ensure food security.
The proposal outlines different regulatory options, but favors a “light-touch” regime for the majority of new plant varieties. These would be treated in a similar way to conventional plants, and not required any authorisation, risk assessments, traceability, or labelling. According to the draft, a transparency register will be created for these plants.
Gen editing is an engineering technique in which genes from the same species or similar ones can be added or deleted. This allows scientists to accelerate a process that has traditionally been used by them to blend plants of different species. A good example is combining a wheat variety with large ears, which leads to higher yields, and one with thick stems, which makes it more wind resistant.
This is different from genetic modification which involves the introduction of DNA from other species.
The full GMO approval would be required for plants that are created by gene editing and could not have arisen naturally. Plant products that contribute to a sustainable food system will be given incentives. They won’t have to wear a GMO tag.
A few GMOs were approved in the EU. They are mainly used to feed animals. This is due to public and political opposition against so-called Frankenfoods.
Greenpeace has said that it will oppose any relaxation of the rules and that this proposal is based on a “fantasy world” where unproven benefits claimed by corporations are assumed and risks do not exist.
Eva Corral of Greenpeace EU GMO said that the senior judges at the union in 2018 ruled gene editing should fall under the GMO regulation.
The EU’s highest court made it clear that GMOs under any other name are still GMOs. The EU must regulate new GMOs to ensure they do not pose a danger to nature, pollinators, or human health.
The proposal calls for a careful treatment of herbicide resistant plants that have evolved into herbicide resistant weeds.
The Green Party and other members of the European Parliament, who will also have to approve the proposed change, are also against any changes. According to a source familiar with the recent discussions, however, most of the member states who must also agree have shown support for loosening GMO regulations.
EU officials have said they will monitor these effects and take appropriate action. They argue, however, that a looser regulatory framework is needed to ensure the commercialisation of research in the EU as many countries have adopted gene-edited plants.
The commercialisation of crops is also less bureaucratic, so it will support smaller businesses.
The lifting of the EU’s effective ban on gene-altered plants will also benefit the developing world. They are hesitant to plant these crops if they can’t be exported to the EU.
An EU official said, “This can have positive consequences for the world.” “Other nations, particularly in areas where food issues are more acute are watching what our actions are. It is important that they deal with climate changes.