Green party insists no U-turn on gene-editing despite recent dissent

In the aftermath of a paper recently published in support of the technology, Häusling insists that there is “no momentum building for new genetically modified organisms (GMOs)” within the Green party. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Following a paper in which a group of German Green MPs and one MEP unexpectedly backed the use of gene-editing technologies, EURACTIV spoke to MEP Martin Häusling, agriculture spokesman for the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, who stressed that nothing has changed for the party, which has historically been vocally opposed to the technology.

The paper, published by a faction of German Greens on 10 June, offered their support for genetic engineering, saying it could play a key role in improving sustainability, and called for a reconsideration of EU regulation on genetic engineering.

This was the first time that such a dissenting position came from within the Greens and raised questions as to whether the tide is changing in the party.

German Green faction pushes for gene editing, overhaul of regulation

In an unprecedented move, a group of German Green MPs, including one Green EU lawmaker, have backed the use of gene editing technologies in a new paper, diverging from the party’s general position and saying genetic engineering could play a key role in improving sustainability.

But Häusling strongly denied this, saying that there is “no momentum building for new genetically modified organisms (GMOs)”.

While he admitted that there have been debates and that it is “only fair” that this technology is assessed from different angles, he maintained that the “vast majority of Greens in Germany – and Europe – are undoubtedly against deregulation of new GMOs”.

Even within the young generation, only a minority shows interest in this, he said and added that the speaker of the young Greens Germany had underlined in a webinar last week that it is in “the very interest of the young generation to act according to the precautionary principle to keep natural resources intact and diverse”.

Regulation ‘fit for purpose’

The paper in question calls for a “modern” approach to regulation of genetic engineering, but Häusling maintained that the current regulation is indeed fit for purpose.

“The European attempt to weigh up the risks and benefits of technologies, substance groups or products in a transparent process – what is legally laid down in the precautionary principle – instead of simply giving priority to the interests of economically powerful corporations, can be regarded as highly innovative and modern in global comparison from an ecological and social point of view,” he said.

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In an environmental audit meeting on Thursday (18 June), UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice offered his support for gene editing after Brexit, saying that the UK government disagrees with the EU stance on …

 ‘Inconsistencies’ challenged

The paper asserts that there are inconsistencies in the EU’s approach to the use of GM technologies, citing the fact that indirect mutagenesis, a form of genetically altering a plant’s genetic makeup via exposure to various physical, chemical and biological agents, is permitted in the EU and questions why this should not also be the case for targeted mutagenesis.

Asked about this, Häusling responded this was rightfully excluded from the ban because it had “been under observation for a long time at the time of regulation and was therefore considered safer because there was time to detect adverse effects”.

The paper also makes a point about inconsistencies in reference to so-called ‘red’ technologies used for health purposes, highlighting that while GM technology is regularly used in medicine, it is not permitted for agriculture.

Commenting on the idea that the EU’s stance is inconsistent in this respect, Häusling said that it is not a sign of inconsistency to regulate different risks appropriately. He explained that the main difference between ‘red’ technologies and genetically modified crops grown on the field is that the use is limited to the patient and does not “escape into nature”.

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