European Parliament votes to endorse plants bred using New Genomic Techniques

7 February 2024 marked a milestone for plant science as the European Parliament (EP) voted to endorse plants bred using New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) such as CRISPR. The EP has been looking more closely at the regulation of these plants in view of the potential contribution of these innovative technologies in ensuring food security and supporting environmental stewardship. This decision follows on from a similar approach adopted by UK regulators last autumn.   

In this decision, the EP has adopted a proposal to create two distinct pathways for plants produced by NGTs to reach the market. Plants classified as NGT2 will continue under the current stringent approach of the current GMO legislation, requiring extensive risk assessment and labelling. However, plants classified as NGT1 will be considered equivalent to those obtained by conventional breeding methods, meaning they won’t undergo the same scrutiny, and won’t need to be identified as developed using NGTs when sold.

This endorsement by parliament is just the first step – for the change in approach to become law the Council of the EU must also agree to the legislation. However, this may take some time as council members currently do not agree on a proposal to completely ban all patents on NGT plants. This patent ban is ostensibly to “avoid legal uncertainties, increased costs and new dependencies for farmers and breeders”. However, amongst other issues, it’s not clear that the proposed approach would actually achieve this. Moreover, without the possibility of protection, there are concerns that innovator companies will opt not to invest in these technologies in the EU at all, leading to a stifling of innovation in this area. 

Many breeders and farmers in the EU will welcome some loosening of the EUs strict approach, and clarity around the availability of breedstock. However, it is uncertain whether these changes will actually protect small market players and allow them to thrive, or whether larger corporations will continue to dominate.

We are keenly watching these developments, and hope that a solution will be found to balance the adoption of cutting edge plant science techniques to help with the challenges of food security and environmental sustainability, whilst ensuring that innovators are adequately rewarded for their efforts.