Positive NGTs proposal, very weak assessment on pesticides

Posted on

In the context of today’s adoption of the Sustainable use of key natural resources package, Farm Europe welcomes the European Commission’s proposal on NGTs, which paves the way for innovation and research dynamism in the agricultural sector. However, this good proposal should not overshadow the weak additional impact study on the proposed regulation on the sustainable use of pesticides which is heavy in length, light in content, and embarrassing for sectors qualified as non-essential. 

The NGTs proposal opens up many possibilities for research centers, small and medium-sized enterprises that will be able – thanks to the reduction of red tape – to develop new plant varieties that meet the demand for greater sustainability, disease resistance and reduced use of inputs.

We note that compared to the version circulated in recent days, the European Commission has decided to remove the restriction for herbicide-tolerant NGTs. Although the political point was clear and echoed past mistakes made with GMOs, it could have represented discrimination without a legal basis. To avoid this, a restriction was introduced in the proposal on plant reproductive material for all (not only in NGTs) herbicide-tolerant varieties, which will have to comply with some conditions (e.g. crop rotation) that the Commission will better specify in a delegated act, to avoid an increase in herbicide use.

We regret that organic production will not be able to take advantage of NGTs and their potential aid for more sustainable agriculture. This would have been a positive possibility for a sector that has reached maturity and finds it difficult to expand further as the Commission intended. 

Although we evaluate the Commission’s proposal as a whole positively, we would like to stress that we are far from widespread and decisive use of these techniques in due time, firstly because it will take at least 2-3 years for the regulation to be approved (also considering the break for the European elections) and secondly, whether the research was not started in advance of the development of the EU regulation, it takes more than 5 years to create an NGT variety for a species whose genome is known, and this without mentioning the time it takes to renew an orchard or vineyard in the case of perennial crops.

So, contrary to what Vice-President Timmermans implies, this important legislative framework on NGTs cannot be used as a bargaining chip to get regulations such as the one on the sustainable use of pesticides, which have many problems, approved.

Disappointing additional impact assessment on pesticides

We recall that just today the Commission published its response to the Council’s request of 19 December 2022 for an additional impact study on the proposed regulation on the sustainable use of pesticides. 

The document, which claims to be serious mainly because of its length (220 pages), is in fact easily summarised: the Commission does not present any new studies and has not carried out any additional quantitative analysis. It merely downplays all the prestigious studies that indicate a drop in productivity as a consequence of the Commission’s proposals. 

In the absence of a serious scientific approach, the European Commission is content to claim that its legislative proposals on pesticides will pose no problem either in terms of food safety or in terms of reducing production thanks to the expansion of organic production, thanks to the reduction of pesticides on non-agricultural land and thanks to NGTs, techniques that are very useful but which, as we have pointed out, will not be available any time soon.

But the most puzzling statement in this study is that the European Commission recognizes that it is true that there will be a drop in productivity, but it will be mainly in those productions such as grapes (and therefore wine), tomatoes and hops that do not impact on food security. 

According to the Commission, if there is a loss of income, farmers will be able to cover the costs with CAP support (again!). These statements are very disrespectful to the agricultural sector which for years has been asked to be both more market-oriented and more environmentally sustainable, with a CAP budget that has shrunk considerably over the years and which today, due to inflation, is losing even more of its value.