Press Release: EU Parliament disregards science by endorsing deregulation of new GM plants

EU Parliament disregards science by endorsing deregulation of new GM plants


After the EU Commission, the EU Parliament now also displays a clear disregard of science, by endorsing the deregulation of new genetically modified (GM) plants. It thereby puts EU citizens and the environment at risk, in conflict with the Parliament’s mandate to represent their interests. Citizens must now hope that the EU Council, which is still undecided, will stop this deregulation.

By a narrow majority (7%), the EU Parliament has endorsed the Commission’s proposal to deregulate GM plants made with New Genomic Techniques (NGTs), albeit with some amendments. The Parliament has proposed to maintain[1] traceability and labelling of products of the plants (which the Commission wants to abolish) and to introduce a safeguard clause, meaning that a plant or product may be withdrawn from the market if a risk to health or the environment appears. However, the safety of NGT plants and products is still not guaranteed, as risk assessment remains absent from the proposal. So risks may materialise upon consumption or cultivation and may not be dealt with until they are discovered.

In the EU political system, the EU Council, composed of ministers of member states, must also formulate its opinion on the proposal and has now twice failed to do so. After a first attempt last autumn, on February 7, at the same time as the Parliament vote, the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER), which prepares the Council’s position, again could not agree on a common position.

The scientific issues disregarded by the proposal are, as ENSSER has pointed out before[2]:

  • NGT plants are in no way equivalent to conventional plants, as the proposal claims. Any GM method, including NGTs, introduces many intended and unintended mutations in the DNA of a plant, resulting in unwanted (side) effects, while conventional breeding and natural evolution only introduce such DNA changes as are required for the plant to adapt to its surroundings and evolve.
  • The numerical DNA sequence criteria which the proposal uses to authorise NGT plants have no relationship whatsoever to the safety of the plants and their products. Since NGTs, like older GM methods, are inherently unpredictable, this safety can only be assessed by scientific risk assessment.

ENSSER member Dr. Ulrich Loening (biologist, retired from the University of Edinburgh) says: “Any gene manipulation, old or new methods, concentrates on the gene or few genes in question, and thereby fails to select for the many and mostly unknown factors that control how those genes function in vivo. In contrast, breeding necessarily and  unavoidably selects for any controls and modulators alongside the breeding selection. Thus GMOs and NGTs can never be in any way equivalent to breeding.”

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher (biologist and molecular geneticist, board member of ENSSER) adds: “New genomic techniques (NGTs) can achieve deep and far-reaching changes in a plant – radically altering biochemical pathways and composition. The processes cause further unintended changes. Risk assessments would ensure the safety of new GM plants and are essential to protect the environment, biodiversity and human health. Safety issues that were not identified in pre-market risk assessment can become apparent after commercialisation. Hence labeling and transparency are important.”

[1] NGT plants, for as long as they exist (roughly a decade), have always been allowed for cultivation in the EU under existing GMO legislation, which requires their traceability, labelling and risk assessment. The EU Commission last year proposed to exempt them from this legislation, i.e. deregulate them.