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Anger tempered by relief at European GM vote; citizen action secures key wins

Posted 9th February 2024 in News

A fiercely contested vote in the European Parliament this week paves the way for the widespread deregulation of certain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but important amendments were passed to require labelling and traceability.

Europeans took to the streets outside the European Parliament in advance of the vote, with the mobilising force of the European Coordination Via Campesina, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), IFOAM Organics Europe and Greenpeace EU amongst others. This alliance of environmental and social organisations underscores the importance of the proposed deregulation – for consumers, the environment, and how tightly our food system is shackled to agribusiness.

                       Protests outside the European Parliament, 6th February 2024.                       Image credit: @nina_holland – Corporate Europe Observatory

The proposal – to remove organisms developed using ‘New Genomic Techniques’ (NGTs) from the regulatory regime which applies to older-style GMOs – originated with the European Commission and on Wednesday was adopted by the European Parliament by a narrow margin.

The legislative procedure has now passed to the Council of the European Union, which has thus far failed to reach an agreement, reportedly due to contested provisions on patents and whether states can ban NGT cultivation nationally. The chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI), told news outlet Euractiv that if EU countries do not reach an agreement in “the next few days” the legislation is unlikely to be approved before the EU elections in June. Opposition by Member States within the Council was welcomed by the European chapter of La Via Campesina, a global movement of small and medium-scale food producers.

The Parliament’s vote was a tense affair, with a raft of amendments proposed by both left and right parties being voted on individually, and many being adopted or rejected by narrow margins. Key votes which secured traceability and labelling provisions passed by just 17 and 15 votes out of around 630. Health and environment risk assessments, as well as coexistence measures, did not make the final cut.

A tight vote for traceability. Image credit: Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament

Responses to the final outcome were mixed. Corporate Europe Observatory called it a “handout to biotech industry”, though highlighted the importance of a “strong campaign supported by hundreds of thousands of citizens” in security labelling and safety provisions.

The Greens/EFA Group in the EU Parliament also highlighted the importance of public pressure. Friends of the Earth said that the removal of safety checks and liability processes puts nature at risk. Greenpeace said the vote meant “more misery for farmers” and that parliamentarians had failed in their duty to protect people’s health, the environment and the future of European farming. Pollinator-defenders Pollinis said treating NGT plants as equivalent as conventionally-bred plants was without scientific basis and dangerous and liberticidal.

The EU’s stance on labelling and traceability now stands in contrast to the deregulation regime being proposed in the UK, which – as pointed out by Beyond GM – will create complications for trade between the two territories.

Swedish MEP Jessica Polfjärd is very satisfied as she welcomes the outcome of the vote. 666? We’re saying nothing.