Germany: no support for deregulation

A little more than three decades after the first legislation on GMOs, the European Commission plans to publish a legislative proposal on June 7, 2023 that could fundamentally revise the definition and framework of GMOs in the European Union. The proposal could indeed lead to the complete removal of many GMOs from European regulations. [1]. Climate change, drought and biodiversity loss are nevertheless reasons put forward to justify a revision of the current regulatory framework, based on the precautionary principle and ensuring traceability and transparency towards consumers.

At various meetings of the European Ministers of Environment and Agriculture held over the past few months, it became clear that the majority of Member States support the development and use of new genetic modification techniques. Many also stressed the importance of maintaining a cautious approach and providing adequate information to the public. Germany’s position on the issue has evolved since the December 2021 legislative elections, but its vote could be decisive in the outcome of member states’ vote on the European Commission’s proposal.

When the federal government supports the European Commission

In May 2021, at the meeting of the agriculture ministers of the European Union member states, Germany showed an unequivocal position: taking into account the precautionary principle, the regulatory framework applied to GMOs should be adapted. take advantage of the new genetic modification methods that should be considered in green technologies and will allow us to have plants” climate resistant » [2].

This position reflected the position of the majority party in power at the time: Angela Merkel’s CDU. The Federal Minister of Agriculture at the time, Julia Glöckner, particularly called for ” get rid of ideological veils » and « keep an open mind “against” new breeding technologies that save us an incredible amount of time and, moreover, are completely indistinguishable from spontaneous random mutations » [3]. In a column published in the daily Tagesspiegeldeclared that it was necessary taking into account the current state of science when applying. Many scientists require a different approach to new cultivation methods. According to them, it is not the tool used for risk assessment of a modified plant, but the specific features developed – in other words, the product, not the process. » [4] .

The European Commission then seems to have been able to count on the support of an influential country like Germany to push forward the legislative proposal. Things have changed since the December 2021 legislative elections brought to power a coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens (Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen) and the Liberals (FDP).

The government is largely opposed to deregulation of new technology

These three parties are divided over the regulation of GMOs and new genetic modification techniques. It should be noted that GMOs and new methods of genetic modification are not explicitly mentioned in the coalition agreement. Nevertheless, the coalition partners are committed ” support for the selection of plant varieties resistant to climate conditions » and « creating transparency in selection methods and strengthening research on risks and detection methods » [5].

Within the coalition government, new methods of genetic modification are viewed with skepticism in the Greens-led Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Environment.

Steffi Lemke, Minister of the Environment, holds the strongest position. At the conference organized in Brussels in June 2022, the minister confirmed that he [voit] no new rules are needed [NDLR : pour les OGM issus des nouvelles techniques de modification génétique] » [6]. For the minister, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was very clear in its 2018 ruling: GMOs resulting from new techniques fall within the GMO rules and their health and environmental risks must be assessed in the same way. any usage permission. Recently, on January 17, during the agricultural congress organized by the Ministry of Ecology together with the Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Elisabeth Mrema, the minister stated that ” Efforts by the European Commission to abolish the risk assessment for plants produced using new genetic methods are unfortunately not pointing in the right direction. If we work with this technology, the precautionary principle and risk assessment must be maintained » [7]. According to the minister, genetic modification methods, whatever they are, feed the industrialized agricultural model and we must move away from it.

The Ministry of Agriculture is also opposed to the deregulation of GMOs resulting from new techniques. Asked by Infodienst Gentechnik, a spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture confirms that the authorization procedure for GMOs resulting from new genetic modification methods should remain as strict as for other GMOs. [8]. He wants a ministry the level of security and transparency remains unchanged in the future. This means that we follow a risk assessment, strict labeling obligation and a traceable authorization procedure on a case-by-case basis. “, – informs the spokesperson of Infodienst. He adds: ” (i) freedom of choice for consumers, farmers and the food industry, and therefore coexistence, must be ensured. Sylvia Bender, State Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture [9]in turn declared that “ deregulation [NDLR : des OGM issus des nouvelles techniques de modification génétique] At the European level, this would be against the wishes [NDLR : de transparence et de liberté de choix des aliments, en référence à différents sondages d’opinion] consumers and I believe we shouldn’t » [10].

The coalition is still looking for a common position

This position is important because the Ministry of Agriculture is a leader in the field of new genetic modification techniques in Germany. It is he who is responsible for reaching a compromise within the federal government for a vote in the European Union Council of Ministers on the proposal of the Commission.

The SPD, which has a majority in the Bundestag (the lower house of parliament), has been given the chancellorship, and the Social Democrats side with the Greens. As reported Inf’GMO At the end of 2022, the Social Democrats advocate a strict regulatory framework [11]. The SPD believes that the GMO rules should apply to all GMOs without exception, including those resulting from new genetic modification methods, in accordance with the 2018 decision of the EDB. [12]. In 2019, the party already declared that ” He does not want the cultivation of genetically modified crops in Europe. For us, the precautionary principle applies especially to new genetic modification techniques such as CRISP/Cas. We are against any weakening of European rules in this regard » [13]. Recently, during government questions in the Bundestag, Development Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) further stated that “ there is no genetically modified plant in the world that can actually fight hunger » [14].

The position of the Greens and the Social Democrats coincides with the arguments of the main food distribution companies. concession organic. The latter asked the European Commission to make the new genetic modification methods subject to the same rules as other GMOs. [15].

The FDP liberals, who are in charge of the Ministry of Research within the governing coalition, are the exception and are instead asking for a relaxation of the rules. Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger says her party will engage the government to revise EU GMO rules. adapted to the risks and the state of the science “. Asked by the daily Tagesspiegelhe believes it new breeding methods offer many advantages, opportunities and potentials. If we want to meet the challenges of climate change, food security and sustainable agriculture, we must bet on these advanced technologies. » [16].

Uncertainty about upcoming negotiations

As long as the European Commission’s proposal is not published, it is of course difficult to predict the possible majority ratios in the Council. However, the ministers of the 27 member countries will have to vote with a majority vote on the proposal of the European Commission. And according to this voting method, for the text to be adopted, it must receive a positive vote of 55% of the Member States representing at least 65% of the population of the European Union. However, Germany alone represents 18.59% of the population of the European Union, the largest demographic weight of the 27 Member States.

Even if a number of member states are in favor of relaxing the rules for new GMOs (France, Spain and Italy, three countries in particular that represent 39.08% of the European population), the lack of unanimity in the German government coalition adds. Uncertainty about the outcome of the upcoming debate on the EU executive’s legislative proposal.

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