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          Will The EU Loosen Rules For Gene-Edited Crops?

          20 August 2023

          4 Min Read


          Key Takeaways

          The European Union is considering loosening its rules on gene-edited crops in order to promote sustainable agriculture.

          Gene-editing is a technology that allows scientists to make precise changes to an organism's DNA without introducing DNA from other species.

          Gene-edited crops have the potential to offer a number of benefits, such as increased drought tolerance, reduced susceptibility to disease, and lower environmental impact.

          The European Union (EU) is currently undergoing a pivotal review of its regulations concerning gene-edited crops in agriculture.1 Proposing new guidelines for consideration, the European Commission aims to permit the cultivation of crops modified through cutting-edge new genomic techniques (NGTs) like CRISPR gene editing within the EU.

          By doing so, the EU seeks to lift the de-facto GMO ban that has constrained the use of such crops in the region for the past two decades. The proposed approach involves implementing a verification process to assess genetic changes before their entry into a comprehensive database.


          What is Gene-Editing?

          Gene-editing is a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism’s DNA by allowing genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. Gene editing therefore offers a tremendous potential to make precise modifications to a plant’s genes, bestowing them with things like enhanced drought tolerance, reduced susceptibility to disease and numerous other desirable traits.

          Through gene editing, future crops could thrive with reduced fertiliser usage, fewer pesticides, less land and less water, paving the way for a more sustainable agriculture model and improved global food security.

          It is to be noted that gene-editing is different from genetic modification (GMO) because it does not result in the introduction of DNA from other species and creates new varieties similar to those that could be produced more slowly by natural breeding processes.2

          However, the European Union has been cautious in embracing gene editing, making it the largest bloc worldwide yet to fully embrace this technology. Compared to countries like the United States and Argentina, which have successfully implemented gene-edited crops, the EU’s current proposal does not entirely exempt NGTs from biotechnology-specific regulations. While it aims to bolster transparency and potentially ease market entry for a broader range of NGTs, concerns still loom over possible political interference and unwarranted delays in the verification process.

          Potential Benefits

          Among the various gene editing techniques, CRISPR stands out as the most well-known, allowing for precise alterations within a plant’s own genetic makeup, as opposed to genetic modification (GMO), which involves introducing larger DNA fragments from other species. Notably, gene-edited crops are still relatively new, with only a handful of applications presently available on the market. Examples include a CRISPR gene-edited tomato with increased GABA3 content, possibly aiding in lowering blood pressure and a mustard green developed in the United States that lacks bitterness.4

          Despite the potential benefits of gene-edited crops, such as enhanced drought tolerance and pest control, there are currently no market-ready crops showcasing these specific traits. Nevertheless, studies on existing GMOs indicate promising environmental benefits. For instance, drought-tolerant HB4 wheat in Argentina (approved in June 2021 making it the first country to do so) could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bolster agricultural resilience to climate change.5

          Similarly, if the EU were to embrace existing GMOs to the extent of countries like Brazil, Canada and the United States, agricultural emissions could witness a substantial reduction, thus alleviating pressure on tropical countries to deforest for agricultural expansion.


          Historically, the EU has leaned towards organic agriculture, which strictly prohibits GMOs and NGTs, while emphasising the reduction of inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. Nonetheless, by altogether dismissing these solutions, the EU has missed out on the environmental advantages they offer. Embracing gene-edited crops presents a promising opportunity to unlock significant environmental benefits and promote sustainable agriculture. As nations across the globe search for solutions to minimise agriculture’s environmental impact, adapt to climate change and increase food production, the EU could play a vital role by embracing a diverse array of tools, including gene editing, to achieve these goals.



          Politico, “Super crops are coming: Is Europe ready for a new generation of gene-edited plants?”, July 2023. Available at:


, “Plans to unlock power of gene editing unveiled”, September 2021/ Available at


          GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain that functions as an inhibitory messenger, reducing neuron activity and helping to balance brain function.


          Genetic Literacy Project, “Mustard greens genetically tweaked to be less bitter will be the first CRISPR edited food available in the US when they reach supermarkets this summer”, May 2023. Available at:


          Nature Journal, “Argentina first to market with drought-resistant GM wheat”, June 2021. Available at:

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