Negotiations have started in Brussels on the regulation of new genomic techniques. The Hungarian strategy remains unchanged. Hungary will continue to stand up for the principles of the Fundamental Law*, i.e. the GMO-free status of Hungarian agriculture, the Hungarian Government stated recently.
The Hungarian Government’s statement continued; “On 5 July 2023, the European Commission published a legislative proposal on the regulation of genetically modified plants produced by new genomic techniques (NGT).
“The proposal divides new genetically modified plants into two categories and makes their use and marketing subject to two different procedures. The first category of plants would be completely exempted from the current GMO regulation. The release of these plants into the environment would, under the proposal, not be preceded by any risk assessment and could be placed on the market without labelling or monitoring. It would also introduce a number of simplifications for the authorisation of second category crops, such as requiring much less data and impact assessment for the authorisation of cultivation of these crops than was the case for previous GMOs. In addition, for certain crops, no follow-up would be required, so that in the future there would be no need to find out whether the product has any harmful effects.
“Importantly, the proposal does not allow Member States to decide for themselves whether or not they want to cultivate crops produced using these new genetic modification techniques on their territory. This is also a very sensitive issue for Hungary, because in 2015, precisely as a result of effective Hungarian intervention, we succeeded in amending the EU GMO Directive to allow Member States to decide for themselves whether or not they want to cultivate GMOs on their territory. The current proposal would once again take away this acquis from the Member States.
“New genetic engineering techniques, such as gene editing, have emerged in recent years and can be used to create almost any GMO. In other words, laboratory tools can be used to manipulate the plant genome in a targeted way. These techniques are used in research and development in many fields, from health to industry and agriculture. In Hungary, too, there is a lot of such research in research institutes, universities and private companies.
“We support this research because it can contribute to development and the competitiveness of our country. However, while in the case of contained uses, i.e. laboratory research and drug development, environmental and health risks can be eliminated with the appropriate safety measures, cultivation, which in fact means the deliberate release of a plant into the environment, may involve environmental and health risks that must be examined before such a product is placed on the market. If an untested adverse effect occurs, it is too late to take action, because it is not possible to withdraw these organisms from the wild. It is therefore essential to regulate activities involving such organisms.
“For our part, Hungary is above all guided by the precautionary principle in relation to these new genomic processes, and we do not support any initiative that would allow these products to be placed on the market in the European Union without a proper health and environmental risk assessment.
“Our primary concern is to strengthen and maintain food supply and food safety and to protect the interests of traditional, especially organic, farmers. For this reason, guarantees must be included in the regulation to ensure that NGT products are properly labelled, monitored and excluded from organic farming. Similarly, consumer freedom of choice can only be guaranteed if compulsory labelling is maintained, which is why we must not allow products created using new genetic engineering techniques to be placed on the market without any prior testing and authorisation.
“The domestic GMO-free strategy therefore remains unchanged. Negotiations have begun at European Union level, where Hungary will continue to stand up for what is laid down in the Fundamental Law, i.e. the GMO-free status of Hungarian agriculture.”
* Since 2011 the government calls the constitution of Hungary “Fundamental Law”.