First green light for NGTs in European Parliament

25 January 2024

First green light for NGTs in European Parliament

By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor

Environment MEPs green light NGTs

On 25 January, the MEPs of the Environment Committee of the European parliament voted in favour of their report on the Commission’s proposal on New Genomic Techniques to allow the deregulation of certain types of gene edited crops and allow EU farmers the opportunity to use these innovative techniques.

The final report maintains a ban on the use of NGTs in organic farming, as well as the seed labelling requirement for “conventional-like” NGT1 plants. MEPs voted against an opt-out clause that would have allowed member states to ban NGTs on their territory. In addition, herbicide-tolerant gene-edited plants were excluded from the “conventional-like” NGT1 category and will remain under more restrictive rules.

The main content of the Commission’s proposal has been confirmed by this vote, which is globally positive (except for herbicide-tolerant varieties). MEPs have added the following:

  • The precautionary principle.
  • NGT plant’ means a genetically modified plant obtained by targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis, or a combination thereof, on the condition that it does not contain any genetic material originating from outside the gene pool for conventional breeding purposes that temporarily may have been inserted during the development of the NGT plant.
  • Herbicide-tolerant varieties cannot obtain the status of category 1 NGT.
  • Reasoned objections to the verification report, solely referring to the criteria and with a scientific justification could be made by the Commission and member states.
  • In the verification procedure the requester shall provide a description of the trait(s) and characteristics which have been introduced or modified including information on the technique or techniques used to obtain the trait or the traits and including disclosure of the sequence of genetic modification.
  • The exclusion from patentability.
  • The adventitious or technically unavoidable presence of category 1 NGT plants, reproductive material or parts thereof in organic production, or in non-organic products authorized in organic production, shall not constitute a non-compliance of that Regulation. Currently, the compatibility of the use of new genomic techniques with the principles of organic production requires further consideration. The use of category 1 NGT plants should therefore be prohibited in organic production, until further consideration.
  • For category 1 NGT, a label and a reference in a variety register shall be automatically transmitted in the EU common register.
  • The conditions and criteria of equivalence of NGT plants to conventional plants, Annex 1 point 1 has been redefined to better fit with scientific basis and complexity of plant genomes. Every 4 years, the Commission shall assess the equivalence criteria established in Annex I and, if necessary, update them through a delegated act.

The European Parliament Plenary vote is expected to take place on 6 February 2024.

Council negotiations hit dead end

Fewer countries are now in favour of the EU’s proposal to allow the use of gene-edited crops than in December when agriculture ministers previously failed to agree on a common position under the Spanish presidency. It now seems unlikely that the Belgian presidency will reach a compromise before the EU election in June 2024, despite pushing the file as their top priority.

The biggest divide between member states is over the patentability of NGT-based products, with Polish Agriculture Minister Czesław Siekierski insisting that Poland, one of the member states seen as key to unlocking the dossier, does not want “to allow the patenting of NGT 1 plants”.

For more information on the Commission's proposal for a new Regulation on plants produced by certain new genomic techniques see EU proposes new framework for New Genomic Techniques – British Agriculture Bureau

Under the EU-UK TCA, Northern Ireland continues to follow EU regulations on plant health and safety, including the use of NGTs. The BAB team continues to work alongside UFU to ensure the implications for farmers in Northern Ireland are recognised withing this dossier.

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