On January 24, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted on the regulation of NGTs. Catherine Regnault Roger, member of the Académie d’Agriculture de France and the Académie Nationale de Pharmacie, explains the details and stakes of this vote.
The European Scientist : Can you tell us what is at stake in the proposed law? How can we interpret the result ?
Catherine Regnault Roger : The aim of this draft law is to enable the more flexible use of New Genomic Techniques (NGT) in the European Union (EU), applied to plants, in particular the creation of new varieties that are better able to defend themselves against bio-aggressors (insects, diseases, weeds) and better adapt to climate change in the Union’s geographically diverse territories.
These techniques, the most promising of which fall into the genome-editing category, generate very slight modifications (deletion of a base, for example) or more extensive ones (replacement of a more or less long genetic sequence by another). The most popular NGT technique is CRISPR/Cas, which associates a protein with a guide RNA. It is the easiest and least expensive to implement.
A large number of countries in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Rim have already adopted NGT technologies and implemented specific regulations that considerably simplify product approval procedures (which can be very costly for manufacturers), or even exempt them after examination of the dossier. As a result, new varieties can be brought to market more quickly and at lower cost . This deregulation mainly concerns genome modifications without the addition of foreign DNA.
The European Union, which must regulate genetically engineered products according to the rigid position defined by the European Court of Justice ruling of July 25, 2018, can only strictly apply Directive 2001/18 to NGT products to date.
It was this directive that killed biotech agriculture in Europe! And with the help of the militant movements of opponents who have taken advantage, for example, of the registration of GMO cultivated plots imposed by the regulations to ransack these fields !
In fact, by revising this regulation, by authorizing biotechnological innovation in genome editing with more flexible regulations, the agri-food sovereignty of all European agriculture is at stake, because global competition is fierce!
The SAM (Scientific Advice Mechanism), a group of high-level experts who provide scientific advice to the European Commission, immediately sounded the alarm in November 2018! A European initiative launched in 2019 by a group of students from the University of Waneningen in the Netherlands, too, as they analyzed that their future as agronomists and or environmental protection executives would be affected. Studies by the OPECST (Office parlementaire d’évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques), led by MP Jean-Yves Le Déaut and Senator Catherine Procaccia, have made the same gloomy prognosis.
This is why, as early as 2019, the Council of Europe has asked the European Commission to initiate a procedure to revise the law that would apply to NGTs .
But the European procedure is cumbersome and involves several stages: scientific studies by the European laboratory JRC (Joint Research Center), proposals to amend the regulations subject to public inquiries, some of which have in fact been the victims of cyber-harassment with the complicity of the Green MEPs of the EELV/ALE group opposed to this revision! So not only is this a complicated process, it’s also one that has been the subject of intense lobbying and obstruction.
Finally, a draft regulation for NGTs was submitted to the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, chaired by Renew MP Pascal Canfin, for validation. Over 1,200 amendments have been tabled. The next step will be a vote in plenary session of the European Parliament if the committee has given a positive ruling.
This is indeed the case. The vote cast on January 24 gave 47 votes in favor of the proposed lighter regulations for certain categories of plants only, those known as NGT-1, against 31 votes in favor of maintaining the current regulations (Directive 2001/18) and 4 abstentions.
Voting in favor of the regulatory revision: all or a majority of conservative (ECR), Christian Democrat (PPE), Liberal Democrat (Renew 9/10 MEPs) and nationalist (ID 5/7 MEPs), plus a minority of social-democrat MEPs (4/16). Against: all the ecologists (Greens/EFA-10 MEPs) and the Left (GUE-CNL-6 MEPs) who took part in the vote, and 2 Non-attached Members. Two ID MEPs abstained, namely the two French MEPs from the French party Rassemblement National who belong to this group, as well as one Renew MEP and one Socialist MEP.
This vote demonstrates a societal choice in favor of or against biotechnology in its agricultural and seed dimensions. Right-wing and Center parties as a whole support this innovation for agriculture, while Ecologists and The Left reject it.
TES: What are the consequences for research, agriculture and distribution?
CRR : This draft regulation minimally revises Directive 2001/18. It exempts only one category of NGT-transformed plants from this regulation: those considered equivalent to conventional plants. This category, known as NGT-1, is exempt from the requirements of Directive 2001/18, while GMO legislation will apply to other NGT-2 plants that do not meet the conditions of NGT-1 .
Research into NGTs has been largely hampered in Europe by a lack of market prospects. International agricultural biotech and seed groups have largely relocated their research to the American (North and South) and Asian continents, as well as to the UK since the Brexit!
It is likely that this new regulation will give a chance to small, limited research programs to be carried out in EU. This will nevertheless be important for the search for solutions adapted to the Union’s agricultural territories to cope with specific insect and disease aggression, soil and climatic conditions, with the development of new improved varieties that do not require major genome modifications. It should also be pointed out that, in terms of intellectual property, the members of the committee have called for a ban on the filing of patents on these varieties obtained by NGT.
About distribution, it was voted in committee that there would be no compulsory labelling at consumer level for NGT-1 plants’ commercialized products, but that all seeds from NGT plants must be labelled, and also an online public list of all NGT-1 plants will be set up. For NGT-2 plants, compulsory labelling, including of products, is mandatory.
MEPs also ask that, seven years after the new regulations come into force, an assessment be made of the societal perception of the impact of new genomic techniques on consumers and producers.
It should be noted that this regulatory review excluded animal applications: research to improve animal welfare and animal health facing of epizootic diseases will therefore flourish on other continents, to the detriment of European livestock farming.
TES : This news comes at a time of crisis in the agricultural sector and five months before the elections. Do you think MEPs have listened to the criticism levelled at them?
CRR : The agricultural crisis in France and other European countries is linked in particular to the EU’s regulatory dirigisme and France’s over-transposition, which are accompanied by demanding standards, procedures and nit-picking controls. While a certain amount of regulation is necessary, as it is the basis of the rule of law for a harmonious society, it should not become a headache for citizens and producers.
Activist judges, and also jurists and politicians who often have limited scientific knowledge and are immersed in the media ocean of orchestrated disinformation, take the liberty of making unfounded legal decisions. In my book “Enjeux biotechnologiques“, it was highlighted how the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies (since dissolved [2009-2021]), demonstrated that law 2014-57 was scientifically unfounded but well maneuvered politically . Yet this law led to a ban on GM crops in France in 2014.
Let’s hope that the current social movement will stop us “walking on our heads”! ( the slogan of today’s farmers’ movement)
 Regnault-Roger C (2024) Biotech Challenges, Springer Nature, Cham (CHE), 157 pages
 Regnault-Roger C (2023) NGT: The European Commission plays a ” simultaneously” approach. 17.07.24
 Regnault-Roger C (2022) Regnault-Roger C (2022) Enjeux biotechnologiques, des OGM à l’édition du génome, Presses des Mines, Paris, 204 pages https://www.pressesdesmines.com/produit/enjeux-biotechnologiques/
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