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EU parliament votes in favour of New Genome Techniques

The European Parliament adopted its position for negotiations with Member States on the Commission’s proposal on new genomic techniques (NGTs) in favour for using CRISPR/Cas as a new but now conventional breeding technology in a specified framework. But patenting of such new plants shall be prohibited in Europe which leaves room for interpretation whether industry will applaud. Next step is the approval by the nations, still not at all certain.

By 307 votes to 263, with 41 abstentions, Parliament adopted its position for negotiations with Member States on the Commission’s proposal on new genomic techniques (NGTs), which modify the genetic material of an organism.

The aim above all is to make the food system more sustainable and resilient by developing improved plant varieties that are climate-resilient, pest-resistant and produce higher yields or require less fertiliser and pesticides, as stated by the EU parliament. For a more sustainable and resilient food system, members of european parliament (MEPs) support a simpler procedure for NGT crops equivalent to conventional crops, while others must follow stricter rules.

Currently, all plants derived from GMOs are subject to the same rules as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). MEPs agree with the proposal to have two different categories and two sets of rules for NGT plants. NGT plants considered equivalent to conventional plants (NGT 1 plants) would be exempted from the requirements of the GMO legislation, while other NGT plants (NGT 2 plants) would still have to follow stricter requirements.

For NGT 1 facilities, MEPs want to change the size and number of modifications required for an NGT facility to be considered equivalent to conventional facilities. To ensure transparency, MEPs agree that packages containing NGT seeds should be labelled and that a public online list of all NGT 1 plants should be established. While there would be no compulsory labelling for NGT 1 plants, MEPs want the Commission to report on how consumer and producer perceptions of the new techniques are evolving seven years after they come into force. MEPs also agree that all NGT plants should remain prohibited in organic production, as their compatibility needs further consideration.

Ban on all patents on NGT plants

The last thing that was added in long discussion to the compromise paper – a ban on patenting – is still in place. The MEPs want a total ban on patents for all GM plants, plant material, parts thereof, genetic information and process traits they contain, to avoid legal uncertainty, increased costs and new dependencies for farmers and breeders. They also want a report by June 2025 on the impact of patents on breeders’ and farmers’ access to diverse plant reproductive material, and a legislative proposal to update EU rules on intellectual property rights accordingly.

Rapporteur Jessica Polfjärd (EPP, SE) said: “The new rules will allow the development of improved plant varieties that can ensure higher yields, are more climate-resilient or require less fertilisers and pesticides. I hope that Member States will soon agree on their position so that we can adopt the new rules before the European elections and give farmers the tools they need for the green transition”.

But that is not at all certain. The Parliament is ready to start negotiations with EU member states on the final legislation. But at least in Germany and some other countries a simple approval of the proposal cannot be taken for granted, as the Green Party in government is strictly opposed to the new rules.