Author: Desislava Georgieva
Published On: 02/02/2024

“Plants produced by the new genomic techniques must be regulated as before under the current directive. We urge the Bulgarian government, the Bulgarian MEPs and the National Assembly to reject the draft EU Regulation.” From Varna, the Public Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development, the Marine Club “Friends of the Sea” and the Mayday Foundation are participating in the declaration.

The NGOs urge the EU and national governments to do more research on the health, environmental and biodiversity risks, and the socio-economic impacts of new GMOs, and the development of common detection methods. In their view, political decision-makers should prioritise consumer rights and environmental and health protection over the economic interests of a few multinational companies.

The position also insists that each EU member state, as a sovereign state, should have the right to make its own decisions relating to the cultivation and marketing of genetically modified seeds, planting material and food.

The opinion was submitted on the day when the working group on agriculture met in Brussels, attended by Ivelin Rizov from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food from the Bulgarian side. The meeting discussed the regulation proposed in July 2023 by the European Commission to facilitate the marketing of new GMOs. Products obtained by new genomic techniques can have a modified genome without the insertion of transgenes and can be distributed throughout the European Union without risk assessment, tracking or labelling. In such a case, the majority of plants produced by this method would be considered equivalent to conventional plants and would not be subject to the restrictions that currently apply to GMOs.

The decision will be put to a vote on January 24 in the environment committee of the European Parliament. The vote in the EP plenary is currently scheduled for February.
According to the general opinion of the Bulgarian environmental and agrarian associations, this proposal represents a direct threat to organic and small-scale agriculture. GMO plants can contaminate other plants through pollination and human error along the supply chain. For example, a bee that forages in a field of plants obtained through new genomic techniques can carry contaminated pollen to nearby organic crops. Without strict regulation, GMO-free agriculture will disappear, experts say.

Among the arguments against the European Commission’s proposal for deregulation, Bulgarian non-governmental organizations point out:

The release of new, untested GMOs into nature. So far, no assessment has been made of the direct and indirect impacts of the release of new GMOs into nature. For example, no research has been conducted on how new GMOs interact with bees and other pollinators, nor how GMO farming can accelerate biodiversity loss.

Most genetically modified organisms that are under development will be excluded from current GMO legislation. The Commission proposes to deregulate all GMOs with modifications below any number of no more than 20 different locations in the genome and no more than 20 nucleotides at each location. They could be marketed without labeling and tracking. No pre-assessment will be required for these GMOs.

More than 90% of GMOs that are in the process of being created by the new CRISPR-Cas gene editing technology would fall under this almost complete deregulation (Category 1). Only a few other GMOs will still need to go through a reduced risk assessment (category 2). For these GMOs, only the intended effects of the manipulation will be assessed and unintended effects will not be considered.

If this proposal for a Regulation is adopted, consumers will no longer be able to choose whether to consume genetically modified food and food processors will no longer be able to guarantee the purity of their products, even though the vast majority of European citizens demand transparency and clear labeling of GMOs in food.

Organic producers will be required to maintain their products GMO-free at their own expense, but will not be able to certify them as organic.

The coexistence of GMO producers and non-GMO producers will be left to the Member States, as there is no developed system for the coexistence of GMOs and other forms of agricultural production in the world so far. But the right of countries to ban or regulate the cultivation of GMOs on their territory will be taken away.

In a 2010 NCIOM survey, 97% of people in Bulgaria do not want GMOs. The desire for awareness and negative attitudes towards GMOs are a priority for the whole society

Removal of the consumer’s right to know as defined in the European Treaties as well as in the general EU food law. By excluding new GMOs from labeling requirements, consumers, farmers and the entire food chain can no longer know whether the seeds, ingredients and final food products they buy contain new GMOs or not.

Depriving governments of their right to ban the cultivation of new GMOs on their territory. Since 2015, 17 governments, including Bulgaria, have already banned the cultivation of GMOs.

Removing basic responsibilities for the biotech industry, such as providing a testing method for every new GMO they develop. The new legislation makes it impossible for farmers and the food sector who want to produce conventional, organic or GMO-free food to protect themselves from unwanted contamination. The European Commission is proposing that testing methods be paid for by those who want to avoid new GMOs and that public breeding registries be abolished.

Impossibility for national authorities to control food safety from new GMOs because biotechnological