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European Commission Proposes New Rules for Genetically Modified Produce – Potential Impact on Supermarket Shelves and Consumer Choice


A genetically modified tomato, apple or cucumber. If it were up to Brussels, they would be for sale more often in the supermarket in a few years. The European Commission wants to relax the rules for some new genetic techniques. Although it remains to be seen whether the plan will receive sufficient support.

The European Ministers of Agriculture spoke yesterday in Brussels about the future of genetically modified fruit and vegetables. It became clear that an extension of the rules cannot yet count on a majority. The Netherlands did agree to the proposal. Outgoing Agriculture Minister Piet Adema called it ‘extremely important’ that Europe does not fall behind in this area. The European Agricultural Commission is also in favor of broader rules, it became apparent last night.

Very strict rules

Unlike some other parts of the world, the EU has very strict rules for crops that have been genetically modified in the lab. This means that there are currently hardly any crops being grown in Europe that are produced using ‘GM’. But if it is up to the European Commission, this will become easier in the future.

The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will only make a final decision on the proposal next month.

The broader rules proposed by Brussels should mainly apply to new techniques, such as the Nobel Prize-winning CRISPR-Cas. With this technique, the DNA of a plan can be adjusted so subtly that, according to proponents, it can hardly be distinguished from what happens naturally in nature.

Genes that do not naturally occur in a plant are not added. However, this technique involves ‘cutting’ the DNA, which can lead to a small change in the plant. The aim is, for example, to make plants more resistant to drought, soil salinization or harmful bacteria and viruses.

“This is a breakthrough,” says John van der Oost, professor of microbiology at Wageningen University (WUR). “We must be careful not to overpromise, but CRISPR-Cas has the potential to contribute to ensuring sufficient food. It will certainly contribute in third world countries.”

Van der Oost fervently hopes that the proposal for more flexible rules will be adopted. Yet not everyone is cheering. There is concern that the proposal will lead to fewer safety checks and that large biotech companies will gain too much power. In addition, there are concerns in the organic sector about the lack of transparency.

Organic farmer Douwe Monsma is against GMO techniques. But even though he doesn’t use them himself, he still worries:

‘I lose the freedom that I now have’

If a product has been genetically modified, this must now be stated on the label. This reporting obligation will disappear, provided the proposal is adopted. “That means that as a consumer you can no longer choose whether you want that,” says Merle Koomans van den Dries, director of organic supermarket chain Odin. “But if you don’t know it, you put it in your basket and then it just enters your body.”

Other supermarkets do not share this concern. A spokesperson for CBL, the representative of supermarkets such as Albert Heijn, Jumbo and Aldi, said: “We assume that the authorities involved, such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), are well able to estimate what is or not safe.”

2023-12-12 08:53:20
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