News 28.06.2023

New GMO-proposal: A significant setback for consumer rights!

  • Pesticides
  • politics and law
  • Transparency and food safety
picture alliance / AGRAR-PRESS | ap

A leak of the draft regulation on new genomic technics confirmed that the EU is considering loosening requirements for plants resulting from new genomic techniques.

The European Commission's leaked proposal on new GMOs is a disturbing step back for consumer rights. European citizens have repeatedly shown through their purchasing practices that they do not want GMO food. Because of the proposed regulation, genetically modified food or ingredients would no longer be labelled. This undermines Article 8 of the General Food Law (EC 178/2002), which guarantees the consumer's right to make informed choices.

The leaked proposal on new GMOs from the Commission is a huge step backwards in consumer rights and must not become a reality. It sets out to take away the consumers’ right to know what is in their food.
Heidi Porstner GMO expert of foodwatch Austria

EU's Precautionary Approach to GMOs at Risk

Under the current regulations in the European Union (EU), any food product containing ingredients derived from genetically modified (GM) e.g. rapeseed, such as rapeseed oil, or made from GM maize, such as cornflakes, must be clearly labelled. The existing regulation states that foods that contain, consist of, or are produced from GMOs, or contain ingredients produced from GMOs, must bear a GMO label on the product.

The current GMO labelling rules have led to widespread market rejection of GM food in the European Union. Despite over 60 GMOs being authorized for import as food and feed, supermarkets have been phasing genetically modified food  out since the early 2000s. Furthermore, attempts to promote GM food have consistently failed over the past 20 years.

Since the European Court of Justice's ruling in 2018 new GMOs, obtained by NGTs, are GMOs and must be treated as such. While there has been previous pressure from industry stakeholders in the past, the current wave of advocacy to change the current rules has surged to even greater levels. The 'precautionary approach' of the EU's existing legislation imposes pre-market authorisation, including risk assessment, traceability, and labelling on any GMO product sold to consumers. The leaked documents suggest that this approach is under threat.

The Hype and Reality of New Genomic Techniques

Agriculture in the European Union to date has been largely free from the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMO). However, newer methods of genetic engineering, so called New Genomic Techniques (NGTs), are now being promoted as a way to reduce pesticide use by developing new pest and/or disease resistant varieties of certain crops. This is a narrative that has been widely spread by industry and GMO proponents to achieve the “Farm to Fork” goals by 2030. However, those seem to be empty promises, as foowatch pesticied expert Lars Neumeister makes explains:

That NGT plants help 'states adapt to climate hazards and reduce the use of pesticides' is pure speculation and promotional, to get NGTs deregulated.
Lars Neumeister Pesticide expert

However, it is crucial to understand that innovation does not necessarily equate to progress. The existing issue of “pesticide lock-in,” fuelled by a socio-economic competition to minimize costs, cannot be effectively addressed through technological means. Especially, when feasible solutions already exist.

To address the high pesticide usage, the introduction of a pesticide tax, regenerative soil management, crop rotation, and nitrogen reduction are important measures for preventing pesticide use. This proposition is based on observations that previous efforts to reduce pesticide use across Europe have been largely unsuccessful, with Denmark being the notable exception where a pesticide tax has had a positive impact.