Council pushes for study on GMOs and study on seeds legislation & legislative proposal

On 8 November, the Council of the European Union issued two Council Decisions requesting the EU Commission to conduct separate studies regarding the legislation on Plant Reproductive Material and GMOs. The results of these studies could have far-reaching consequences as they could lead to reopening of the current legislations.

Seed legislation and legislative proposal
First, the Council requests the Commission to submit a study on the Union’s options to update the existing legislation on the production and marketing of plant reproductive material and a [legislative] proposal if appropriate in view of the outcomes of the study .

The current legislation is fragmented among various Directives covering different types of seed and vegetable reproductive material. The last attempt to revise the ‘Seed legislation’ was made in 2014, when the Commission withdrew a proposal to update the legislation because the European Parliament rejected the proposal. The reason for this rejection was that it was said to have failed in meeting its core objectives such as simplifying the rules and promoting innovation.

On 8 November, Member States pushed again for an inquiry into options to update the legislation. They emphasized that the reasons for the 2013 proposal are still relevant today - these include the complexity and fragmentation of the existing regulation, non-harmonised implementation in different Member States as well as alignment and coherence with other policies. For the organic movement, an opening of the legislation would also be an opportunity to make a strong case for the inclusion of organic varieties and organic heterogenous material. The Commission is supposed to submit the study by 31 December 2020. IFOAM EU will closely follow the process and provide the organic movement’s input.

GMOs and new genetic engineering techniques
The second Decision on 8 November requests the Commission “to submit a study on the Union's options for addressing the legal situation of 'novel genomic techniques”. This study will be “followed up by a [legislative] proposal if appropriate in view of the outcomes of the study”.

This request comes after the ruling of the European Court of Justice of July 2018 clarified that all GMOs, old and new, are subject to the EU’s obligations for risk assessment, authorisation, traceability and labelling. While the Court concluded that the European legal framework on GMOs is fit to regulate the new techniques, there are practical implications regarding its implementation that need to be clarified according to the Member States.

These concern mainly the development of detection methods & strategies to test imports for the presence of unauthorized GMOs. While Member States ask the Commission to support the national authorities in the implementation of the ruling, some states are not satisfied with the ruling of the European Court of Justice and would like to exempt product from new genetic engineering techniques from the rules regarding safety assessment, traceability and labelling that are defined in the GMO legislation.

IFOAM EU’s press release of 7 November 2019 regarding the Council Decision, highlighting the need for the European Commission to take a coordinating role in supporting Member States with the implementation of the law and providing a clear EU mandate and funding for the development of detection methods.

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