NGTs are a variety of techniques that alter the genetic material of an organism. Currently, all plants obtained by NGTs are subject to the same rules as GMOs, which are among the strictest in the world.
The European Commission believes that developing improved plant varieties that are climate resilient, pest resistant, give higher yields or that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides could help to make the food system more sustainable and resilient.
Several NGT products are already or in the process of becoming available on the market outside the EU (eg bananas in the Philippines that do not go brown, with the potential to reduce food waste and CO2 emissions). The European Food Safety Authority has evaluated potential safety issues of NGTs.
Parliament is now scheduled to adopt its mandate during the 5-8 February 2024 plenary session, after which it is ready to start negotiations with EU member states.
Euroseeds, which represents the European seed industry, welcomed the news. Secretary General Garlich von Essen said, "This vote sends an important signal to Europe’s breeders, farmers and citizens. Driving sustainability goes hand in hand with the need to support and enable innovation.”
Von Essen emphasised that “this legislative initiative has the potential to boost Europe's progress and leadership in plant breeding and ensure high-quality seed security, supporting our transition towards a resilient, truly sustainable food system.”
Before the vote, numerous agri-food associations, research and public institutions, NGOs, and farmers’ organisations all voiced their support for the NGTs proposal.
He added: “This legislation could be a real game-changer for Europe, its farmers and consumers.”
Farmer orgnisation Copa and Cogeca also welcomed the key vote. “NGTs are part of the toolbox that enables breeders to speed up their programmes and bring faster, better-quality plant varieties onto the market. When available in all sectors and regions, NGTs are a crucial asset to help European farmers facing the consequences of climate change.
Others complained the proposasl fail to address how to protect farmers, consumers and the environment from risks associated to NGTs”,
“Intellectual property rights attached to NGTs extend to genetic material and traits that can also be obtained by conventional breeding, and jeopardize the European model of innovation in breeding, based on the circulation of genetic resources among hundreds of SMEs,” said Jan Plagge, president of IFOAM Organics Europe, the umbrella organisation for organic food and farming, after the vote.
Greenpeace’s legal analysis meanwhile claims to show that, if adopted, the law could violate a broad body of EU constitutional law, including several articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, because rules on safety checks, labelling and traceability are removed or watered down. It could also violate the fundamental rights of farmers to property and the freedom to run a business, because it does not provide sufficient protection against the contamination of crops with new GMOs.
New GMOs are currently covered by the existing EU legislation on GMOs, with all GMOs subject to safety checks, traceability and labelling.
Greenpeace EU GMO campaigner Eva Corral said: “Decades of progress in the EU on farmers' rights, and protecting people’s health and the environment, should not be scrapped for the sake of biotech industry profits. Safety measures do not hinder innovation, nor do current rules that apply to GMOs. EU law does not prohibit research and development: it aims to ensure that what is developed does not breach EU citizens’ rights to health and environmental protection.”