European Parliament to vote on a proposal on plants obtained by New Genomic Techniques (NGT) which impacts the patenting of plants.
On January 24, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) of the European Parliament adopted an amended version of the European Commission proposal on the marketing of plants obtained by New Genomic Techniques (NGT) that would loosen the EU’s strict GMO rules with respect to NGT plants, more particularly for those NGT plants that are considered to be “equivalent to conventional plants” (so-called NGT category 1 plants).
“New Genomic Techniques (NGTs)” is used to refer to techniques that alter the genetic material of an organism in a targeted way such as through gene editing tools like CRISPR/Cas9, TALENS, cisgenesis, and the like, that have been developed over the past two decades after adoption of Directive 2001/18/EC. Currently, all plants obtained by NGTs are subject to the same EU marketing rules as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are among the strictest in the world (cf. EU GMO legislation). The object of the proposal from the Commission was to lower the bar for allowing certain NGT plants on the European market. Indeed, the Commission finally recognizes that these technologies can help to make the food sector more sustainable and resilient by allowing the development of improved plant varieties that are climate resilient, pest resistant, give higher yields or that require fewer fertilisers and pesticides. It is clear that this aspect of the proposal is good news for the Ag-biotech sector in Europe.
However, while the original proposal of the European commission did not contain any provisions on intellectual property, the new proposal which will now be proposed to the European Parliament contains a new Article 4a which in fact specifies a full ban on patents on all “NGT plants, plant material parts thereof, to genetic information and process features they contain”, i.e. not limiting the exclusion to category I NGT plants. The proposal further suggests to amend the Biotech Directive (98/44/EC) to expressly ban patent rights on all NGT plants, as well as on plants obtained by classical mutagenesis or cell fusion. While the amended proposal now allows that a certain category of NGT plants is brought onto the European market, it takes away an important incentive for industry to develop these plants.
The proposal appears to ignore that the patent system is crucial to bringing new developments to to the market and is therefore important for all stakeholders, including breeders looking for desirable traits and SME’s trying to compete with multinational competitors. The weakening of the patent protection for these products will inevitably lead to less rather than more EU-based innovation.
The proposal is scheduled to be adopted by the European Parliament during the 5-8 February 2024 plenary session, after which it will also have to pass by the Council before it is adopted as legislative act, see also New Genomic Techniques: MEPs want to ban all patents for NGT plants | News | European Parliament (europa.eu).
It is to be hoped that the European parliament, the EU Commission and the Council of the European Union which Belgium is currently presiding, will understand the potential impact of this proposal and will refrain from accepting provisions therein which are clearly anti-patent and unrelated to the object of this proposal, i.e. to facilitate the development and placing on the market in a safe way of innovative NGT products which can benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment.
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