EU governments fail to agree on gene-editing rules despite patent exception

Poland, Hungary and others declined to back the modified text
calendar icon 27 June 2024
clock icon 2 minute read

A last-ditch attempt by EU governments to break a deadlock over relaxing regulations on gene-edited crops failed after countries including Poland rejected changes to the text that exempted patented seeds from the measure, reported Reuters.

The text for so-called new genomic techniques (NGT), which would be the foundation of negotiations with the European Parliament before the law could take effect, was withdrawn from Wednesday's agenda after it emerged in preliminary talks that there was insufficient support to reach a qualified majority, according to an EU official.

Poland and others declined to back the modified text despite efforts to assuage concerns that the patenting of seeds produced using NGT would not provide equal access to the technology for small- and medium-sized producers.

The new draft rules by Belgium presented this week sought to separate NGT technology from regulations covering traditional GMOs and also wanted any patented NGT seeds to still fall under the strictest GMO rules, according to an EU source.

Poland's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The EU parliament endorsed NGT technology in February but for the proposal to relax regulations to go ahead, lawmakers and governments would have to align their respective texts first.

Unlike GMO, NGT can edit the genetic material of an organism without introducing foreign DNA.

Its proponents say it effectively accelerates mutations that can occur naturally over time, and can develop varieties that could reduce pesticide use and make crops more drought-resistant and nutritious. Critics say it is no different to GMO and could damage fragile ecosystems and affect people's health.

Cesar Gonzalez of Brussels-based Euroseeds, an association representing European seed businesses, said the failure to reach a consensus would imply a delay of at least a year in approving any legislation since the EU's rotating presidency will be led by Hungary and Poland, both of which oppose the legislation.

In the meantime, the EU may struggle to identify imported products developed using NGT because they won't have foreign DNA that can be used to identify them.

"It's a disadvantage for those here and an advantage for the others," Gonzalez said.

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