The food sector is a very important part of the EU economy
The food sector is a very important part of the EU economy. It imports 89 billion euro and exports 85 billion euro of food and drink making it the largest in the world. The food sector (includes agriculture) employs over 48 million which is 1/5 of the EU workforce (Pederson and Hernández, 2014). Thus, it is important for the EU to have high good safety, environmental and animal welfare standards so that they can compete in the world markets, where it is difficult to compete on price alone.
The EUs whole approach to food safety aims ‘at ensuring the highest level of food safety, plant health, animal health and animal welfare’ (Pederson and Hernández, 2014). The EU food safety framework was put in place so that the internal market is kept running smoothly, it ensures the safety of public and consumer protection. In order to ensure these objectives/framework, control standards are put in place and must be adhered to. EU laws are also made on labelling of food products to prevent false advertising and so that the public knew exactly what they were eating.
Over the next ten years, food law will become as big as environmental law in terms of sheer volume and variety of legal happenings. In America, state governments and local governments are grappling with food regulation. As the years go by, the amount of trade and other international implications increase for the food system. The concerns about bioterrorism and agri-terrorism increase as many American food producers are purchased by foreign companies. The meat industry and agribusiness pollute the air and water. However the hottest topic today is the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods. I believe GM foods are the way forward, and that the regulation of these foods is outdated and must change. New food technology is being discovered and with this comes the responsibility of the EU to carefully regulate them. They must not be categorized into the way they are at the moment, as either natural or unnatural. Regulation of these products will be the main tasks and will be the next battleground in food regulation.
The EU has one of the strictest and most severe sets of GMO regulations in the world. There are no large amounts of GM crops grown in Europe. An exception to this is in Spain where they grow MON810. Smaller amounts are also grown in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Portugal (Davison and Ammann, 2017). The first EU directive (2001/18/EC) permitted GMO crops to be grown anywhere in the EU. However, the latest one, EU- Directive 2015-412, allowed countries to ‘opt out’ of GMO cultivation for reasons unrelated to food safety. 17 countries used the ‘opt out’ clause. In 2016, president Juncker who is very anti-GMO tried to introduce legislation that would restrict the use and sale of GM food or feed within its borders. This is ridiculous as EU member states rely on imported high protein GM feed, (for example EU members states imports 34 million tonnes of GM soya beans per year) (Davison and Ammann, 2017). I feel this like this area is very one sided and is being overrun with anti-GM food activists views. What we are left with are decisions being made by people who are completely uneducated in the area. However, over the last few years new techniques have evolved known as New Plant Breeding Techniques (NBT). They are able to do precise editing of the plant genome without addition of new or foreign DNA. Their methods can be summarized under gene editing (GE) (Davison and Ammann, 2017). These are not GMO based techniques since in many cases no new DNA is introduced. As a results they cannot be clumped together with GMOs. These techniques are currently being reviewed by a committee of competent authorities from member states. These people are not scientist and could not make a decision for GMOs in 7 years. I believe this will be the next battleground for regulation and think this committee needs a scientific input on how you can regulate them. These NBTs and GE may be classified as recombinant DNA which is a worry because without differentiation, it could set back food technology and regulation as well as European biotechnology for years to come.
How was the regulation of GMOs so badly managed in the first place that it has caused them to fail? And how we can regulate NBTs so the same fate does not happen to them?
The biggest fall for GM crops was the assumption the GM foods were intrinsically different i.e. more dangerous than the non-GM equivalent. Today we know that they are not very different from the parent crop. The differences are so minor that it is almost impossible to differentiate between them. The EU-legislation definition of a GMO: According to Directive 2001/18/EEC: “genetically modified organism (GMO) means an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” (GMO Legislation, 2018) Most GMO regulation is triggered by this definition.
Regulation 178/2002 resulted in the creation of EFSA which was a group of scientists which were to advisory committee on GMOs free from political interface (GMO Legislation, 2018). This committee was often criticized by the governments of member states and tried to bend EFSA to their respective wills. The committee were also attacked by the public on many occasions. Regulation No 1830/2003 concerns the labelling and traceability of GMOs and food and feed products produced form GMOs (GMO Legislation, 2018). I do agree with the labelling of foods so consumers know what they are eating but I feel this was not the real intentions here. The results of labelling ‘contains GMOs’ is that the supermarkets refused to stock them. Allowing them to be shelved often resulted with concequences with many being blackmailed. Thus, GMOs were excluded from the marketplace. GMOs had already been labelled by the false negative propaganda of activists and this is what the public saw. If science would come first it would say GMO containing food are actually safer, which was proven by several incidences (potato with toxic amounts of salanine), EHEC. The purpose of this regulation was not to ‘inform the customers and enable an informed choice’, it was to keep GMOs out of EU supermarkets.
It is obvious that it is time to renew the whole regulatory system on breeding technologies. Although anti-GMO activists had stopped GMOs in their tracks in Europe, their whole climate around against GMOs is slowly weakening and gene editing looks positive once it is not put under the same heading. Two research teams, Podevin and Wolt, published papers on how regulation should take place with these new advanced technologies. They both propose a ‘dynamically scalable systems,’ including NBTs. The NBTs takes into account all present day knowledge on breeding processes on a molecular level. This allows for advancement of our technologies. Wolt et al. emphasises how it is time to quit the regulatory focus on the process and that the new focus should be on the novel phenotype development. In doing this, the uncertainties of the old regulatory systems will be left behind. Podevin suggested 2 categories: 1) where recombinant DNA is introduced but the end produces do not contain foreign DNA, you would not know the difference between it and the convectional bred plants. 2) Only contains foreign DNA in an intermediate stage, but the end products are in most cases undetectable (Lusser et al. 2011).
A well-defined regulatory system is needed so that modern plant breeding and the economy is not seriously hampered. The simplified system of categorising them into either GMO or non-GMO is ridiculous and will stall the development of modern agriculture. It is no-longer possible to focus mainly on the process. The way Canada handles itself is one to be followed. It proposes that ‘decisions are made on the basis on whether cops have new traits, irrespective of how the traits are produced’ (Smyth, 2014). I believe the Canadian way of selecting novel crops for biosafety assessment is best along with bringing in the approach of a dynamically scalable view. This will lead to solutions. Along with this, the new emergence of gene editing calls for an updated legislation. The planning for a new regulatory elements is highly complex but must be decided by the EU. The EU, instead of presenting a full concept on how regulation of plant-breeding should be conceived, the focus should be on arguing in a flexible way why genome editing techniques should not automatically be defined as GMO according to the definition (Davison and Ammann, 2017).