This law is now intended to significantly simplify the approval of genetically modified varieties. Complex environmental risk assessments should be eliminated; Organic farming is excluded from the schemes. However, Greenpeace criticized that the new varieties could also end up in the fields of farmers who don't want to grow genetically modified plants themselves.
Until now, genetically modified varieties had to be extensively tested for potential risks to the environment before being approved. Proponents hope the new processes will create plant varieties that adapt to climate change, require less water and are more resistant to disease. Also, new varieties should hit the market soon.
However, consumer protection organizations have warned that people can decide for themselves whether to buy genetically engineered products. In Germany, in early January, several large companies from the food industry protested in an open letter against the EU Commission's plans.
MPs have not fully complied with the Commission's plan for branding. The original proposal called for only seeds to be labeled when using “New Genetic Techniques” (NGT). However, a majority of parliament voted in favor of an amendment from social democrats and greens, according to which products made from genetically modified plants must carry a label saying “new genetic processes”.
Only Cayman for that
There is great opposition in Austria. 307 members of the EU Parliament voted in favor, 263 against and 41 abstained. Most Austrian MEPs rejected the plan. Only NEOS MP Claudia Gamon voted against the text.
Genes and Technology
Basically, there is a tradition of handling crops. The genome of the plants is interrupted by reseeding the more productive ones. New genetic engineering is primarily about genetic scissors. It specifically controls the genes responsible for a particular trait. It causes changes in the genetic material that occur naturally.
While they did not vote, ÖVP and FPÖ parliamentarians were also in the minority in their respective EU blocs. “We want labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be required and organic products to be free of genetically modified organisms,” EU MP Alexander Bernhuber (ÖVP) said before the vote.
“With today's decision, we are clearing the way for genetic engineering through the back door,” criticized SPÖ representative Gunther Siddle. “Comprehensive risk assessment of genetically modified foods and impact assessment for vulnerable ecosystems should not be mandatory in the future,” he said, referring to the parliamentary position. Ahead of the vote, FPÖ MP Roman Haider criticized the fact that EU countries such as Austria do not have the will to continue banning genetic engineering.
Disaster “with a silver lining”
After the vote, Green MEP Sarah Weiner spoke of the “catastrophe for agriculture, the environment and people who eat it”. According to his party colleague Thomas Weitz, the vote is bad news, especially for consumers “and Austrian GMO-free agriculture”.
For the environmental NGO Global 2000, the referendum result was “a big step backwards for the environment and EU precautionary policy”: “Minimal labeling and traceability is a silver lining amid the disastrous vote”, said a genetic engineering spokesperson. Brigitte Reisenberger.
Legislation takes time
MPs also voted for a clause that would not allow patents on varieties resulting from new genetic technologies. MPs fear that big agricultural companies could seize potential patents and that medium-sized seed producers could walk away empty-handed. However, the necessary patent regulation requires a new proposal from the EU Commission; One section is not enough in the law under discussion.
With Wednesday's vote, the EU Parliament is ready to negotiate with the Council of EU countries – but not the other side: responsible EU agriculture ministers have yet to find a common position. However, negotiations in the Council have stalled and it is unclear whether the Belgian EU Council Presidency can reach a quick agreement.
So legislation is no longer expected before the European elections in early June. What matters here is what the majority will be after the election. At a press conference on Tuesday, several Austrian MEPs expressed their hope that the Council could prevent genetic engineering rules from being too relaxed.
Concessions to farmers
The agricultural sector – at least outside of Austria – is likely to be happy about the prospect of easier approval. The German farmers' association says the new technologies will “help us better deal with the current challenges posed by climate change”.
The EU Commission has been very supportive of farmers recently given the upcoming EU elections. In the final draft of the new climate target, for example, there is no originally planned pathway for reducing non-CO2 emissions in agriculture. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also announced her intention to withdraw a proposal for an environmental protection law against overuse of pesticides.
In France, government concessions led farmers to end their large-scale protests. In Germany and Italy, the peasants were also appeased through political concessions. But elsewhere these are just beginning. Current hotspot Spain: On Wednesday, for the second day in a row, farmers blocked roads in several parts of the country, disrupting traffic. Around 1,000 tractors were on the move in Barcelona to demonstrate higher income and better working conditions. Spain is considered the fruit and vegetable garden of Europe.
Different problems in countries
Farmers blame EU agricultural policy primarily for the situation in agriculture. Bureaucratic barriers to EU agricultural aid are too high, environmental requirements are difficult to meet, agricultural imports from low-quality countries represent unfair competition and prices for their products are too low. They have also demanded that tax reduction for agricultural diesel should continue. In parts of Catalonia and Andalusia, severe droughts have forced farmers to conserve 80 percent of their water, angering them too.
In Bulgaria, nationwide farmers' protests continued on Wednesday with traffic blockades. Agricultural unions demand compensation for cheap Ukrainian imports. Farmers blocked important traffic junctions and main roads with their machines for about 3 hours.