There are, however, some big caveats. First, even if the European Commission has its way, the new regulations will only apply to GM crops and not the type of GMO widely grown in the United States. Second, two of the most widely grown crops in the EU are wheat and barley, and there are no genetically modified versions of these crops ready to be planted directly in the ground.
In other words, any reduction in emissions due to a change in gene-editing regulations would not happen quickly. But more drought-tolerant crops may not be too far away. Kovak points out that drought-tolerant wheat has already been approved in Argentina, although it is also a GMO crop. However, if the EU and its 450 million people become a new market for genetically modified crops, this could incentivize agricultural companies to produce new European varieties of drought-resistant staples.
If GM crops are deregulated in the EU, it is likely that the first to hit the market will be fruits and vegetables rather than major staple crops, as many of these already have GMO versions and manufacturers might not want to create new gene-edited varieties just for the European market. Large agricultural companies have tended to avoid modifying lower value foods such as fruits and vegetables due to the high costs associated with developing new GMO varieties, but gene editing is much cheaper. In the United States, a CRISPR-modified mushroom was the first genetically modified food to be approved for sale. In the UK, Martin is carrying out his first field trials on tomatoes genetically modified to contain a vitamin D precursor. These trials were only possible because the country recently relaxed regulations regarding field trials. of genetically modified crops, as part of a post-Brexit break with the regulations of the European era.
Legislation to deregulate GM crops in the EU could have a much harder road to travel. The European Commission’s study has been strongly contested by groups such as Greenpeace and Slow Food, an organization that promotes local and traditional cuisine within the EU. If a change in the regulations is to be adopted, the commission will have to convince the European Council, and then the legislation will be put to the vote of the European Parliament. In a bloc with such strong food traditions, there is likely to be a lot of resistance to the new rules for genetically modified crops.
But Petra Jorasch, spokeswoman for Euroseeds, a group representing European seed companies, says gene-editing technology could actually help preserve landraces. Gene editing could mean that the Riesling grape could be made resistant to certain fungi, for example, while retaining all the other qualities of a Riesling. “If you could use these technologies to improve fungus resistance in a wine, you would have the same harvest with that extra resistance and less fungicide use,” she says.
Kovak says the best way to convince voters and lawmakers might be to point out that increasing crop yields in the EU would allow the region to become more food secure and therefore less vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices. food. And because gene editing is cheaper, consumers might also have a more direct experience with modified crops in the form of nutritionally enhanced fruits and vegetables, like Martin’s tomatoes. “It opens the door to more product improvements,” says Kovak.