The European Commission outlined on Wednesday its plans to loosen gene editing rules across the EU in a bid to help farmers meet 2030 pesticide reduction targets set out in the Green Deal.

The move would allow plant breeders to use new genomic techniques to breed better seed for the EU market.

These new gene editing techniques are separate to those used to produce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) whose seeds will remain out of reach for EU growers.

The Commission stated in its proposal that new varieties developed using new genomic techniques could speed up the process of breeding varieties with better fertiliser use increase efficiency, disease resistance and drought tolerance.

A two-tiered system has been proposed for treating grain and other crops resulting from the new technologies in the marketplace.

Two tiers

Not all varieties developed through new genomic techniques will be allowed enter conventional markets . \ Donal O' Leary

Different approaches were put forward for the varieties whose genes could have been incorporated into them using traditional breeding programmes than was proposed for the crops with “more complex modifications”.

Seed labelling requirements would be mandatory for all varieties derived from new genomic techniques, but the more complex editing varieties would have to also go through EU safety processes in place for GMOs before hitting the market.

These stricter controls will require these more complex modified varieties to be kept separate from conventionally bred and grown grain when sold, as is the case for GMOs entering EU markets.

The varieties that could have been developed through traditional breeding will not have to be kept separate from non-new genomic technique crops but cannot enter organic systems under the current proposals.

The insertion of genes into a plant from “non-crossable species” will remain banned in the EU.

Impact assessment

The proposal comes just as the Commission published an impact assessment on the sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) proposed last year.

The regulation seeks to halve use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides across the EU by 2030.

The Commission claims that its analysis of the reduction in pesticides will not “threaten food security” but warned that not cutting usage now "will have long-term and potentially irreversible effects on our food security in the future".

Its impact assessment had been sought by EU farm ministers last December.

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