NGTs legislation fuels intense debate

19 December 2023

A heated debate is currently underway surrounding the controversial NGTs (New Genomic Techniques) legislation proposed by the European Commission in July. This legislation has sparked intense discussions due to its looser requirements and restrictions in comparison to traditional GMOs. Notably, certain crops subjected to NGTs – those qualified as NGT1 – , are being treated as conventional, further intensifying the discourse. The proposed changes have elicited diverse opinions and concerns, making it a focal point of discussion within various scientific, environmental, and policymaking circles. As stakeholders grapple with the potential implications of these regulatory shifts, the NGTs legislation continues to be a subject of considerable contention.

The Spanish EU Council Presidency, set to be succeeded by Belgium on January 1, aimed to secure an agreement on the Council’s stance regarding the file in a meeting on December 11. However, their proposal fell short of the necessary majority for a general approach on NGTs. Ministers remained divided on various contentious aspects of the legislation, including the coexistence of NGTs with organic farming and the potential patenting of new plant varieties.

Countries with a longstanding tradition of organic farming, such as Germany and Austria, expressed support for the proposed ban on the use of NGT plants in organic farming. Nevertheless, they expressed concern that the Commission’s proposal creates challenges for these farmers in proving that their production is free from gene-editing.

The primary point of contention spanning the political spectrum revolves around the uncertainty regarding the patenting of genetically edited crops. Policymakers are urging the EU executive to prohibit the patenting of NGT1 crops to safeguard farmers and prevent the establishment of monopolies, and are asking for stricter rules on labelling.

Leading food trading companies headquartered in Germany and Austria sent a letter to the European Commission, demanding a strict labelling of NGTs. In particular, they asked the following:

  • “Changes to the EU regulatory framework must not jeopardize freedom of choice, organic
    farming, and price stability in food production. Clear and workable rules on transparency
    and traceability are needed so that NGT-free foods can continue to be produced, labeled
    and sold as such.
  • Prior to any new regulation of genetic engineering law, the consequences, in particular the
    effects on costs and prices, of patents on genetically modified seeds and plants must be
    analyzed and discussed in the context of a thorough impact assessment. Where
    appropriate, legal adjustments to patent law are desirable.”

SAFE strongly believes that the text may mislead European consumers about the presence of GMOs in their food. Several scientific studies cast doubt on the equivalence between NGT crops and those derived through non-GM techniques. The fundamental premise of the Regulation, based on the equivalence of these plants, requires a thorough reevaluation.

Moreover, the introduction of new terminologies like ‘New Genomic Techniques (NGTs)’ appears to obfuscate the fact that these techniques still fall under the category of GMO, as defined by both European case law and international standards. This further confuses consumers. SAFE contends that the utilisation of these techniques is not aligned with the principles of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy. Consequently, streamlined risk assessment procedures should not be granted for these new crops.

SAFE believes that, if there’s nothing to hide, then there is no reason for it to be hidden.

Read our full position paper here