Picture: © Euroseeds

Plant breeding innovation reloaded?

The European Court of Justice ruling from 2018 which put the latest breeding methods under the EU GMO legislation was a huge pushback for plant breeding innovation in the EU. With the proposal for a new regulation for certain new genomic techniques (NGTs) published on 5 July 2023, some faith in a rebirth of plant breeding innovation may just start to return.

The European plant breeding and seed sector welcomes that the Commission proposal finally recognises the need for a differentiated regulatory approach to certain NGTs from the burdensome GMO legislation.

The proposal establishes a verification process to confirm if a NGT plant is meeting the equivalence criteria to be categorised as conventional-like (Category 1). Consequently, those Category 1 plants should also be subject to the same regulatory requirements as conventional breeding products. It is therefore inconsistent that Category 1 NGT plants are considered GMOs for organic farming. This does not allow organic farming to benefit from any of the NGT-derived product innovations in plant breeding – specifically those that enhance environmental sustainability of crop production- that we expect in the years to come.
Euroseeds welcomes that national competent authorities are the responsible bodies for conducting the verification procedure. This increases accessibility for SMEs. We nevertheless regret that the Commission took a very conservative approach in view of the limited numbers of genetic changes for an NGT-plant to be covered by the equivalence criteria for Category 1.

This does not allow polyploid crops which include multiple copies of the same gene to benefit in the same way from the application of NGTs if each copy is counted separately.

Breeding companies invest up to 20% of their turnover in research & development and rely on legal certainty for their investments. The verification process should therefore be effective and predictable based on clear criteria and the scientific expertise of member states’ competent authorities.

Euroseeds reiterates that any GMO-approach (Category 2) -even if it includes a lighter risk assessment- is unworkable, specifically for SMEs. We expect import approval applications for Category 2 plant products to be the same as for classical GMOs but we do not consider the GMO system suitable for cultivation approvals. This will again lead to a situation which allows for import of innovation but restricts the cultivation of such innovations for EU agriculture.

We remain committed to contribute and to advocate for a system of intellectual property rights that takes the needs of all stakeholders involved in the development of innovative technologies and products into account. Such system needs to successfully balance effective protection and fair, broad access, to the benefit of Europe’s agri-food sector and society.

Petra Jorasch, holds a PhD in plant molecular biology from the University of Hamburg. She is an internationally recognised industry advocacy expert with more than 20 years of experience in plant science and breeding as well as relevant intellectual property protection systems and a deep knowledge of the relevant policy frameworks. Petra joined Euroseeds in February 2017 as the spokesperson of the EU plant breeding sector on modern plant breeding methods and innovative technologies.

This article was originally published in European Biotechnology Magazine Winter Edition 2023.