April 18. 2024. 1:39

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Austria wants food labelling transparency amid likely gene editing deregulation

The European Commission must implement a safety assessment of genetically modified products and maintain mandatory labelling, Austrian Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler and Consumer Protection Minister Johannes Rauch said in a letter to EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides as Brussels is expected to push for the deregulation new genomic techniques.

By early June, the Commission is expected to decide whether to loosen existing EU rules on new genomic techniques (NGTs) as these are currently subject to GMO Directive’s strict restrictions. By altering the genome, NGTs can genetically engineer plant qualities such as drought tolerance.

For Austria, however, the EU should stick to existing rules to protect consumers and the environment, the letter addressed to Kyriakides who is responsible for the file reads.

Austria’s “long tradition of organic farming and strict rules to protect it from genetic engineering” – an “achievement” according to Gewessler – “must not be jeopardised by EU legislation on new genomic techniques, which is being developed by the Commission merely on the basis of vague assumptions.”

Approval, risk assessment, and compulsory labelling must also apply to NGTs, according to Rauch.

“Consumers have the right to know what is on their plates. We are fighting together for transparency,” he said.

Gewessler and Rauch already called for further discussions and investigations on NGTs at an expert conference in Vienna in June 2022, with Gewessler renewing this demand at the EU Environment Council in March.

At the EU level, not everyone favours deregulating gene editing.

While a coalition of organisations backed by Green MEPs sent a petition to the Commission in February urging it to keep the existing strict rules, the centre-right group in the European Parliament (EPP) is in favour of deregulating NGTs as its MEPs have stressed the impossibility of labelling foodstuffs as gene-edited since genetic improvements are not identifiable in the final products.

(Chiara Swaton | EURACTIV.de)