Four key European industry bodies have backed new gene-editing techniques for use in the potato breeding sector.
Most of the existing potato breeding programmes in the world are situated in the European Union (83%).
Out of the 157 private companies active in potato breeding, 150 are situated in the European Union (96%).
The industry groups Copa-Cogeca, Europatat, Euroseeds and Starch Europe recently published a joint release stating that access to new genomic techniques is essential to meet future challenges in the potato sector.
New genomic techniques (NGTs), like gene editing, are currently banned in the EU, as they fall under the same legislation as gene modification (GM).
The group says that the current GM legislation in the EU faces clear implementation challenges and is no longer fit for purpose.
Breeding potato varieties is a complex and slow process. This is due to the complex genetics of this crop, which is propagated by tubers.
Potato breeders typically spend 10 to 12 years screening and multiplying before they are able to market a new potato variety.
In this context, NGTs can provide tools to allow breeders to develop varieties, similar to those that are developed from conventional breeding methods, much more quickly.
The release reiterates that, in a recent report, the European Food Safety Authority did not identify new hazards for plants resulting from specific NGTs such as targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis.
They say that such techniques result in plants that carry the same level of risk as that of those resulting from conventional breeding techniques.
Potatoes are the fourth most important food crop in the world after maize, rice and wheat.
While potatoes are vulnerable to different types of abiotic stress such as cold, heat and frost, they also face threats arising from global warming that lead to water restriction, which significantly affects quality and productivity.
Climate change is therefore a major challenge for breeders.
Potato cultivation performs better in cool conditions (19°C) and is vulnerable to high temperatures.
With every one degree Celsius rise in temperature, potato yields are reduced by 3% to 11%.
Furthermore, the EU Farm to Fork strategy requires farmers to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2030 and food systems to become more sustainable.
The group says that the breeding of improved potato varieties can play an important role in meeting these goals.