The European Parliament approved proposals to allow farmers across the EU to access gene-edited seed last week.

This means that trilogue negotiations can commence once member states agree their position on the technology, which is currently banned in the EU.

MEPs voted to ban patents for varieties developed using new genomic techniques to try and settle intellectual property fears raised, since the proposals were tabled by the European Commission last year.


The main benefit of allowing new genomic techniques would be the faster development of new varieties and the improvement of existing ones, as the tool allows for more precise breeding strategies, Teagasc’s head of crop science Ewen Mullins told the Irish Farmers Journal.

However, Mullins added that even if the proposals were to pass, it may still take five to seven years for Irish farmers to see cereal varieties derived using the technology going into national trials having been developed by large European seed houses and breeders.

“The focus, first off, should be on disease resistance traits; although there have been some recent developments on the sustainable use of pesticides regulation, disease is eroding profitability, so increased resistance is critical,” the researcher commented.

“Then, we should turn to lower nitrogen varieties, those which are more efficient at using nitrogen, and other traits which reduce inputs.”


The current proposals would require labelling of all varieties bred using new genomic techniques, and their exclusion from organics for the time being.

They would provide for two sets of rules and approval procedures for varieties which have fewer than 20 modifications, and those which are more modified.

Mullins maintains that growing pressures on Irish tillage farmers, ranging from drought stress to fertiliser reduction targets, could be somewhat relieved by the technology.

Insurance traits, like resistance to late frost and resistance to lodging, could become more integrated into new varieties with favourable yield figures, he explained.

“It’s an extra tool in our front pocket to deliver varieties that perform better and it does give us hope, because the current germplasm we have to work with in the EU is not up for the stresses we will see in the years ahead,” according to Mullins.

“Other countries outside the EU will develop these varieties and it would put farmers in the EU at a disadvantage not having them.”