The Netherlands wants to keep new genetic engineering out of organic farming

The Netherlands believes that new genetic techniques should not be allowed in organic agriculture. Outgoing LNV Minister Piet Adema announced this in a letter to the House of Representatives last week, prior to an initial EU discussion on expanding the EU rules for genetically processed food. According to the organic sector, this goes against the essential characteristics of natural agriculture and livestock farming.

The European Commission has proposed that food from agricultural products processed with new genetic techniques (NGTs) such as Crispr-cas will from now on be more widely permitted. They no longer have to comply with strict prior checks and do not require separate labelling. 

The monthly LNV Agricultural Council in Brussels discussed for the first time what procedures are needed to introduce the new GMO rules. It turned out that the EU countries are still far from on the same page. For the Netherlands, the use of genetic editing offers opportunities for the transition to a more sustainable agricultural and food system.

According to Minister Adema, our own research has shown that this can be done safely for people, animals and the environment. New techniques can increase the resilience of crops and are necessary for the future of agriculture. Otherwise, Europe risks falling behind, he said in Brussels on Monday.

Adema wrote that there are several Member States that want to allow the light NGT category 1 without restrictions, including in the organic sector. The position of the outgoing Dutch cabinet is that it respects the wish of the organic sector to remain free from it. Other LNV ministers are also against or are not yet keen.

The Agriculture Committee and the Environment Committee have now made meeting arrangements in the European Parliament to consider the proposal as quickly as possible. They hope to settle it before the European elections (June 2024). But Environment Commissioner Sinkevicius has already warned that a lot of legal research still needs to be done before a real bill is on the table. In particular, abandoning the so-called 'precautionary principle' can cause obstacles.

There is also a first draft report in the European Parliament by the Swedish Christian Democrat Jessica Polfjärd (EPP/CDA). She advocates introducing the new techniques as quickly and as extensively as possible, with even fewer restrictions than in the Commission proposal.

The left-wing opposition in the European Parliament believes that the organic sector should remain GM-free and that this should be stated on labels. Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp (PvdD) therefore demands a buffer zone of at least 5 kilometers between genetically engineered cultivation and organic cultivation, to prevent cross-pollination. If cross-contamination does occur, in the ieder case it must be ensured that the polluter pays through good liability arrangements.