In an opinion published this Wednesday, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) recommends evaluating “case by case” plants resulting from new genomic technologies (NGT) before any placing on the market. At the beginning of February, the European Parliament for its part approved by a narrow majority a proposal for regulatory relaxation. The European text aims to exempt some of the varieties derived from NGT from the rules governing GMOs, which are today subject to a long authorization procedure, impact studies, obligations in terms of traceability and labeling. ..

Described as “new GMOs” by their detractors, NGTs offer a host of tools “editing” the genetic material of plants to improve their yield or make them more resistant. The technique is carried out by deactivating a gene or transferring genes from the same species, but without external addition, unlike “transgenic” GMOs. Seed companies are thus working to obtain a potato resistant to a herbicide (to weed without killing the crop), a wheat with a reduced gluten content or a vine resistant to gray rot. Opponents fear uncontrollable effects when the plants produced from it spread in nature.

NGTs are at the heart of a controversy between those who want them to remain regulated like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and supporters of a frank opening of the regulatory framework, arguing that these biotechnologies are essential at a time when climate change requires finding new seeds.

The minority union Confédération paysanne and the France Nature Environnement (FNE) association organized a press conference last week at the Agricultural Show to request the publication of this notice; “blocked by the government” according to the organizations. Anses finally released this document of more than 300 pages on Wednesday, after Le Monde published extracts on Tuesday evening.

Before authorizing them, the health agency’s experts recommend in particular evaluating “on a case-by-case basis” the “health and environmental risks” associated with plants obtained via molecular scissor technology (CRISPR-Cas9), the most common. They also plead in favor of a “post-authorization monitoring plan for environmental risks, by an organization independently” of the seed company which requested to place this new variety on the market. The evaluation of NGTs, advocated by ANSES, could be “simplified for genetically modified plants for which the history of knowledge makes it possible to justify a lower level of risk”. Among the risks identified, that of resulting in a more allergenic product.