SPROUTS FROM BRUSSELS – April 2021

Sprouts from Brussel

Seeds & Crop Biodiversity in European Policy

ECLLD Seed Policy Dialogue

Register to the ECLLD Seed Policy Dialogue on new techniques of genetic modification on 29th April at 5pm!

In order to discuss policy developments that affect crop diversity movements, the European Coordination Let’s Liberate Diversity (ECLLD) is launching a series of virtual Seed Policy Dialogues. These monthly meetings will be a place to exchange on the different policy updates compiled in the Sprouts newsletter and dig deeper into a specific topic brought forward by the ECLLD Members.

This month’s dialogue will be held on Thursday 29th April from 17:00 – 18:30 CEsT, with the participation of the French organisation Inf’OGM, as it will tackle the topic of new techniques of genetic modification, including genome editing. The webinar will be held in French and English. You can register here to attend the event.

Update on the Organic Regulation

Delegated Act on Organic Heterogenous material still on the legislative train, consultation on record-keeping obligations, and adoption of the European Organic Action Plan.

The draft Delegated Act (DA) on Organic Heterogeneous Material (OHM), regulates the rules to be followed for the production and marketing of diverse seed populations. The Act, although ready, is still with the EU Commission translation services and has not yet been sent to the EU Council and the EU Parliament for a feedback and comment period of two months. Just like the Organic Regulation, the Delegated Act will enter into force on 1st January 2022.

Based on the new Organic Regulation, organic producers and groups of organic producers in the EU need to keep records to show their compliance with EU rules. A Draft Delegated Act adds to the information that needs to be recorded, according to that Regulation and is Open for public consultation until 11th May.

On the 25th March, the European Commission has published the European Organic Action Plan 2021-2027, with sizeable space dedicated to seeds. The Action Plan’s third axis, aiming to “improve the contribution of organic farming to sustainability”, contains a section dedicated to “enhancing genetic biodiversity and increasing yields”. Amongst the measures cited in the section, the Commission states that it “will revise the Seeds Marketing Directives to facilitate the registration of seed varieties, including those used for organic farming, and develop actions to conserve genetic resources and develop seeds with a higher genetic variability and broader biodiversity potential”. In addition, starting in 2022, funding under Horizon Europe will be earmarked “to support the preservation and use of genetic resources, pre-breeding and breeding activities, and the availability of organic seeds, and to contribute to the development of organic heterogeneous material and organic varieties”.

IFOAM Organics Europe has welcomed the Action Plan, especially the “allocation of at least 30% of the Horizon Europe funding for agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics relevant for the organic sector, as well as carrying out a study on the real price of food and the role of taxation”.

Upcoming Seed Marketing Reform

Study on options to reform EU seed marketing laws to be discussed by Council in May, Inception Impact Assessment in preparation by the Commission, and Common vision letter sent by civil society.

Mandated in November 2019 by the European Council to carry out a study on the options to reform the EU seeds marketing rules, the European Commission will publish the study carried out by an external consultancy in the coming days (probably the 30th April). The work will be presented to the representatives of EU Member States that sit in the Special Committee on Agriculture, which prepares the work of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, on 10th May. It is now clear that the study will be accompanied by an Inception Impact Assessment, which is a detailed Roadmap for further legislative work, and precedes official impact assessments that need to be carried out by the European Commission given the potential impact of a law or policy on the economy, environment or society. This inception impact assessment will be open for public consultation on the official Have Your Say website for a length of three weeks after its publication. The European Commission will then start working on the full impact assessment and the legislative proposal, which will be open for public consultation for a duration of three months.

In the meantime, a common vision letter was sent to the European Commission by different actors of crop diversity, “representing seed savers, gardeners, farmers, breeders, seed suppliers, food producers, and civil society organisations that value and work with the genetic diversity of cultivated plants”. Outlining the shortcomings of the currently applicable legislative framework on the marketing of seeds, the organizations also outline key demands for the future system, which should “support, rather than discriminate against, intra-specific and intra-varietal diversity, thereby supporting adaptation to climate change, the transition to a more climate and environmentally friendly agriculture, local seed and food production, farmers’ rights, and healthier diets”. To that end, the organizations argue that the definition of seeds marketing should be limited to commercial activities targeting professional seed users, the legislation provides freedom of choice for farmers and growers with regards to seeds and their production standards, transparency about breeding methods, in a system where the distinction between intellectual property rights systems and seeds marketing are clearer.

EP Report on the Farm to Fork Strategy

Compromise amendments are being negotiated on the INI Report of the European Parliament on the Farm to Fork Strategy, civil society letter on priorities for the Strategy.

Presented by the European Commission in May 2020, the Farm to Fork Strategy is an overarching policy framework which is part of the European Green Deal, addressing changes needed throughout the entire food value chain, from production to transformation to consumption. The European Parliament has been working on its Initiative Report on the Strategy, where the competence is shared between the Agriculture and Environment Committees. Compromise agreements are currently still being negotiated by the different political groups of the European Parliament.

In order to influence the process, numerous civil society organisations, amongst them ARC 2020, Arche Noah, European Coordination Via Campesina, Consumer Organisation BEUC, the European Environmental Bureau, Ifoam Organics Europe, Pesticide Action Network and Urgenci (the Community Supported Agriculture movement), all members of the EU Food Policy Coalition, have sent a strong letter to the MEP’s listing seven priorities for the Farm to Fork Strategy. In relevance to crop diversity, they ask for recognition of the need for urgent and bold action, endorsement of the Farm to Fork targets, unlocking the transition to agroecology for nature and climate-friendly farming, and the promotion of precaution and farmers’ rights before technological innovation.

EC Work on “New Techniques in Biotechnology”

As the publication of the European Commission study on new genomic techniques looms in the horizon, advocacy campaigns are getting louder.

Back in November 2019, Member States mandated the European Commission to carry out a study on “new genomic techniques”. The study, was kicked off with a targeted stakeholder consultation, in a process criticised by civil society for the heavy and disproportionate involvement of the biotechnology industry in the process. The  study will be published on the 30th April, and will be presented to Member State officials on 10th May, and during an ad hoc meeting of the ‘Joint Working Group on new genomic techniques’.

Actors from the biotechnology and seed industry, along with umbrella organizations regrouping scientists from a plant science and molecular biology background, such as the EU-SAGE network, the European Plant Science Organisation, and the Re-imagine Europe task force call for a deregulation of certain techniques of genetic modification. Intriguing links have been uncovered through extensive research carried out by lobby watchgroup Corporate Europe Observatory in their “Crispr-files”, which unveil the tactics used by the biotech industry to prepare the ground for such deregulation. In the meantime, a group of 161 organizations from civil society, farmer and peasant groups, and the organic movement have sent a letter to the European Commission calling them to not deregulate a new wave of GMOs, and demanding the protection of the rights of farmers and consumers to choose what they plant and eat. This means GM food must be risk-assessed, traceable and labelled.

EU Commission Consultation on Plant Passport Regime

Consultations on the plant passport regime still open until 9th May 2021, the outcomes of which will be presented to the EP and Council by December 2021.

Required by EU Regulation 2016/2031 (and analysed in more detail in Issue 9 of the Sprouts), the Commission’s needs to publish reports that will analyse the impact of the extension of the plant passport systems to all plants (and seeds), and be accompanied by a legislative proposal if deemed necessary by the cost-benefit analysis.

DG SANTE, which holds the file, has prepared a dedicated website to the process, where different questionnaires can be found, according to your status (private citizen, operator or association). The questionnaires are open until 9th May 2021. The process is a good chance to show the potential detrimental effects of the new regime on the conservation of biodiversity, but also peasants’ rights to seeds.

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