The European Parliament allows genetically modified food to a limited extent

ENVI Committee - New GM techniques in the food sector: impacts on health and the environment?

A small majority of the European Parliament has cleared the way for the soon authorization of GMO genetic techniques in agriculture and horticulture. In a number of cases, this means that the strict safety requirements for allowing genetically processed food onto the EU food market will no longer apply.

The aim of relaxing the rules is to develop improved climate-resilient plant varieties that are also resistant to pests, yield higher yields, and require fewer fertilizers and pesticides. This should help make the food system more sustainable and resilient, and can also ensure that crops and agricultural products rot less quickly.

With a majority of 307 against 263 votes (with 41 abstentions), some food crops (NGT1) may be processed with the so-called Crispr-cas scissor technique. This is not yet permitted for other crops (NGT2). More than 150 of the more than 700 MEPs were not present in Strasbourg or did not participate in the vote.

Parliament did take the position that food containing crops with such new genetic techniques should remain outside the organic food chain. That is why the GMO treatment should be mentioned on the labels, according to the EU politicians. Moreover, there should be a ban on applying for and granting patents on such 'new' food.

Due to the latter two positions, it is not yet clear whether the new rules can come into effect soon, because several EU countries want broader rules. There are even calls for the distinction between NGT1 and NGT2 to be abolished. The 26 Agriculture Ministers must soon reach a qualified majority, after which a common position must be negotiated with Parliament.

Opponents say it is very worrying that GM crops can end up in the environment and on our plates without a safety assessment. “The biotech industry has done everything it can to abolish the rules on genetic engineering. It is very worrying that the lobby of multinationals is winning in Brussels," said MEP and co-negotiator Anja Hazekamp (Party for the Animals).

However, the European Parliament insists that the label contains the indication “new genomic techniques”. Freedom of choice for consumers is important: they want to have the choice whether or not to choose this, says Hazekamp. 

Freedom of choice is also very important for organic food producers. The House of Representatives recently called on the Dutch Minister Piet Adema (Agriculture, Nature & Food Quality) in a motion to guarantee the freedom of choice of consumers and to ensure that the organic sector can remain GM-free.

Dutch VVD MEP Jan Huitema is pleased with the approval of the proposal. He calls it a decision that came at exactly the right time. 'We do not have the luxury of ruling out new innovations based on gut feelings. With new breeding techniques we can restore the natural defense mechanisms of plants to our food crops, such as potatoes and grains.

Other parts of the world are already using such new breeding techniques, while Europe lagged behind due to strict GMO legislation.