Meat & Livestock News

Europe Moves to Update Regulations for Advanced Gene Technologies

The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety has recently voted to establish a new regulatory framework for innovative genomic techniques (NGT). These techniques, which involve altering the genetic material of organisms, are currently regulated under the same stringent rules applied to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The proposed changes aim to make the food system more sustainable and resilient. NGTs hold the promise of developing plant varieties that are better adapted to climate challenges, resistant to pests, yield more produce, and require fewer fertilisers and pesticides. Some NGT products are already making their way to markets outside the European Union, such as bananas in the Philippines that resist browning, potentially reducing food waste and CO2 emissions.

The European Food Safety Authority has assessed NGTs for safety concerns, leading to a proposal for two distinct categories and corresponding sets of rules for NGT plants. Plants deemed equivalent to conventional ones (NGT 1 plants) would be exempt from GMO legislation, while NGT 2 plants would see an adapted GMO framework applied to them.

The committee has decided that all NGT plants will remain excluded from organic production until their compatibility is further assessed. For NGT 1 plants, amendments have been made regarding the criteria for considering a plant equivalent to conventional varieties.

Additionally, there is a call for NGT seeds to be labelled and for a public online list of all NGT 1 plants to be established. Although NGT 1 plants won’t require mandatory consumer-level labelling, the commission is tasked with reporting on the evolving perceptions of consumers and producers towards these new techniques seven years after the regulations come into effect.

For NGT 2 plants, the committee supports maintaining current GMO legislation, including mandatory product labelling. An accelerated risk assessment procedure is proposed to encourage the adoption of NGTs, highlighting their potential to enhance sustainability in the agri-food system while emphasising the importance of adhering to the precautionary principle.

A significant amendment proposes a complete ban on patents for all NGT plants and related materials to prevent legal uncertainties, increased costs, and new dependencies for farmers and breeders. The committee also requests a report by June 2025 on the impact of patents on access to diverse plant reproductive materials and calls for an update to EU intellectual property rights rules.

Rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd expressed the importance of this proposal for bolstering Europe’s food safety sustainably, stating, “We finally have a chance to implement rules that embrace innovation.” The European Parliament is set to adopt its mandate in the upcoming February session, paving the way for negotiations with EU member states.