However, there are some big caveats. First, even if the European Commission prevails, new rules will only apply to GM crops and not the type of GMOs that are widely used in the US. Second, wheat and barley are two of the most widely grown crops in the EU and there are no genetically modified versions of these crops ready to be planted straight into the ground.
In other words, any emission reductions from changing gene editing regulations would not happen quickly. But more drought tolerant plants might not be too far off. Kovak points out that drought-tolerant wheat has already been approved in Argentina, although it too is a GMO crop. However, if the EU and its 450 million people become a new market for GM crops, this could provide an incentive for agricultural companies to produce new drought-resistant varieties of European staples.
If GM crops are deregulated in the EU, fruits and vegetables will likely hit the market first, rather than large mass crops, as many of them already have GMO versions and manufacturers may not be willing to develop new gene-edited varieties only for the European market. Large agribusinesses have tended to avoid modifying low-quality foods like fruits and vegetables because of the high costs associated with developing new GMO varieties — but gene editing is much cheaper. In the US, a CRISPR-edited mushroom was the first genetically engineered food approved for sale. In the UK, Martin is conducting her first field trials on tomatoes that have been genetically engineered to contain a precursor to vitamin D. Post-Brexit detachment from EU-era regulations.
Legislation to deregulate GM crops in the EU could face a much tougher road ahead. The European Commission’s study has been strongly opposed by groups such as Greenpeace and Slow Food, an organization that promotes local and traditional cuisine across the EU. If an amendment to the regulation is to be passed, the Commission must persuade the European Council, and then the law will be put to the vote in the European Parliament. In a bloc with such strong food traditions, there’s likely to be a lot of opposition to new GM crop rules.
But Petra Jorasch, a spokeswoman for Euroseeds, a group representing European seed companies, says the gene-editing technology could actually help preserve local varieties. Gene editing could mean that the Riesling grape could be made resistant to a specific fungus, for example, while retaining all the other characteristics of a Riesling. “If you could use these technologies to improve fungal resistance in a wine, you would have the same crop with that extra resistance and less fungicide use,” she says.
Kovak says the best way to persuade voters and lawmakers is to stress that increasing crop yields in the EU would make it easier for the region to become more food secure and therefore less vulnerable to food price volatility. And because gene editing is cheaper, consumers could also have more direct experiences with edited crops in the form of nutritionally enhanced fruits and vegetables like Martins tomatoes. “It opens the door to further product improvements,” says Kovak.