Seed World

Open Letter From Scientists to Members of the European Parliament About New Genomic Techniques

New genomic techniques (NTG) are essential to contribute to greater sustainability of agriculture and food sovereignty in Europe.

Ambitious objectives have been set at European level to ensure its food sovereignty while maintaining the sustainability of its agriculture which must face climate change while reducing the use of inputs, including water, fertilizers and phytosanitary products.

To achieve these objectives, a continuous flow of innovations is necessary.  This requires accelerating the development of new plant varieties adapted to the environmental constraints described above. This implies that these new varieties can withstand environmental stresses such as drought or extreme temperatures (abiotic stresses) and be resistant to diseases and parasites (biotic stresses). The rapid introduction of such varieties will only be possible if breeders have access to all available techniques without preconceptions and under good conditions. However, this is not currently the case in Europe since the legislation on GMOs applicable to NTG, which dates from 2001, is not adapted to these recent technologies.

Numerous results already published and the first NTG varieties available in the world

The potential of NTG is already demonstrated by the number of scientific publications around the world. More than 800 are currently listed in the EU-SAGE1 database covering the range of traits described above and applied to 70 different plant species. GMO legislation, which has already been adapted in several countries around the world, has enabled the marketing of the first NTG varieties such as a tomato enriched with GABA (Japan), a kale without bitterness (United States) or a banana with reduced browning (Philippines). More is to come considering, for example, the number of NTG plants listed in the USDA databases2 or of Health Canada3.

The Commission’s proposed regulation

Aware of this situation, the European Commission presented in July 2023 a proposal for the regulation of varieties selected using NTG (targeted mutagenesis and cisgenesis). This proposal was eagerly awaited by all those involved in the research and development of these new varieties in Europe. It provides that plants selected using NTG and which could also occur naturally or be produced by conventional breeding techniques are not subject to European legislation on GMOs. They would be subject to the regulations applied to varieties resulting from conventional selection. These NTG plants will have to meet certain criteria based on the modified genome sequence. They will be verified by a competent authority, listed on a public database and the seed bags labeled “NTG-1 plants”. Other NTG plants would remain subject to the rules and requirements of EU GMO legislation, with a risk assessment adapted to take into account the diversity of their risk profiles and address detection challenges.

Need for rapid adoption of the proposed regulations

Rejecting the application of NTG to plants would prevent Europe from participating effectively, with other countries, in meeting the challenges facing the agricultural world. Europe must have the ambition to remain a major player in food production in its own interest and in the interest of the planet. We believe that the proposed regulation of NTG plants proposed by the Commission corresponds to the needs of the sectors involved in the food production chains. The adoption of this proposal, subject to some clarifications, several of which are already taken into account in the draft amendment of the ENVI committee of the European Parliament or which may be included subsequently in the implementing acts provided for in the project, must take place very quickly to enable the development of the first NTG varieties before the end of the decade, thus helping Europe to achieve the objectives it has set for itself.

The signatories are available to provide you with further information and answer any questions you may have.

3. other-novel-foods/transparency-initiative/list-non-novel-products-plant-breeding-food-use.html
Click here to see the list of signatures.