Despite a concerted effort from the rotating EU presidency, EU agriculture ministers have failed to establish a unified position on the European Union’s proposed relaxation of rules governing the use of genetic editing technologies, commonly referred to as new genomic techniques (NGTs) or new GMOs.
New genetic modification techniques, encompassing methods such as gene editing, gene engineering, or NGTs, involve scientific processes to modify genomes and introduce specific traits into plants. The European Commission presented its vision for handling this technology’s future in July, leaving it to lawmakers to delineate their stances.
The Spanish Presidency aimed to finalize a general approach on the matter during the latest meeting of EU agriculture ministers on December 11. Unfortunately, the attempt fell short as the proposed position failed to secure the necessary qualified majority support.
Qualified majority voting (QMV) requires a combination of 55% of member states, representing at least 65% of the total EU population. Notably, key dissenting voices included Austria, Romania, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Luxembourg, and Slovenia. Germany and Bulgaria abstained, with Germany’s split stance being crucial due to the population element of QMV.
Main concerns from member states centered around issues like coexistence between organic and conventional production, patent handling, and a lack of clear traceability and labeling requirements.
IFOAM, the EU organics association, commended agriculture ministers for protecting EU breeders and farmers from patents and genetic resource monopolization. Greenpeace’s GMO campaigner, Eva Corral, expressed encouragement that an agreement wasn’t reached on what she deemed an unacceptable proposal, urging negotiations for safety checks, traceability, and labeling of new GMOs.
On the other hand, MEP Jessica Polfjärd regretted the Council’s inability to find a majority, while farmer Thomas Duffy criticized the EU Council for impeding technological advancements needed to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use.
The unsuccessful outcome poses a setback for Spain’s agriculture minister, Luis Planas, who aimed to finalize the deal during their presidency. Despite ongoing efforts, the most probable scenario is the matter passing to the Belgian Presidency in January.
While Planas remains optimistic about reaching an agreement, the EU might operate without a legal framework for these technologies until at least 2025. The Spanish Presidency plans to advocate for a position during a meeting of EU ambassadors on December 22.
EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed the file’s importance and the commitment to assess the impact of plant patenting. The Commissioner expressed confidence in finding a way forward despite certain reservations.
As discussions continue in the Parliament, a crucial vote in its agriculture committee is scheduled for December 11. While not the lead authority, the committee shares competence on key aspects, including the status of category 1 NGT plants.