This article is part of our special report The EU future of new plant breeding techniques.
The ‘new plant breeding techniques’ need new EU legislation that takes into account the latest advanced technologies, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told EURACTIV.com, adding there was too much manipulation and “scare-mongering” around the issue.
“From my point of view, we need a new legal regulatory framework for these new techniques,” Andriukaitis said, adding that it should be dealt with by the new European Commission after the EU elections in May.
New plant breeding techniques, developed in the last decade, allow the development of new plant varieties by modifying the DNA of the seeds and plant cells.
In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that organisms obtained by mutagenesis, or gene editing, plant breeding technique are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.
The decision was a victory for environmentalists but it shocked the industry, while EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan told EURACTIV he was “surprised” by the ruling.
Environmental NGOs said the ruling prevented “hidden GMOs” from entering the EU from the back door. The EU member states remain confused about the issue and the EU executive is now checking the possible next steps.
Andriukaitis said the ECJ had been asked to interpret a law [GM legislation] which was adopted 20 years ago and was referring to old techniques, without taking into consideration the technological progress in this field.
“We are currently analysing the ruling and discussing with member states its implementation,” he said.
Andriukaitis added that a broad public debate over the issue was needed, as it is high time that Europe de-stigmatised new plant breeding techniques.
The Commissioner also rejected the argument that multinational companies are behind these techniques, citing the example of some poor Bangladeshi farmers who took advantage of these techniques and managed to produce and feed their families on their own, without using pesticides.
He said the public opinion should rely on science and stop being manipulated by “specific actors”.
“Public opinion’s manipulation is a very dangerous issue… The level of understanding of such issues is very low, but scaremongering in Europe is very high,” the EU health chief added.
He also commented on GMOs, which are banned in Europe.
“Please tell me, how many people have died because of GMOs? Do you have statistics? How many people died because they eat meat which was produced using GM feed? No one and some are manipulating,” the Commissioner said.
Andriukaitis insisted that Europe should listen to science, otherwise “it has no chance to have sustainable agriculture and preserve biodiversity”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]