In May, the European Union unveiled its Farm to Fork strategy, the agri-food component of its Green Deal. Genetic engineering is timidly included, with reference to the European Commission’s ongoing study on the potential of new genomic techniques to improve sustainability throughout the food supply chain. 

In the United Kingdom, the Parliament is lobbying the Secretary of State for the Environment to introduce an amendment stimulating genetic innovation in the post-Brexit Agriculture Bill.  

In the United States of America, government has enacted a major regulatory change which will exempt – as of 5 April 2021 – certain genetically modified plants from government oversight, and will allow automatic approval of variations of established types of genetically modified (GM) crops, thus facilitating their placing on the market.

05/07 EU – UK: the main agri union backs call for allowing access to NBT’s 

The UK National Farmers Union (NFU) has backed calls made by a cross-party group for the new Agriculture Bill to allow British farmers access to gene-editing technology post-Brexit.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on science and technology in agriculture, chaired by MP Julian Sturdy, wrote to George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, urging the government to introduce an enabling amendment during the Lords stages of the Bill in order to boost the genetic innovation after Brexit.

The proposed amendment would provide new powers for ministers to consult on and, where deemed appropriate, make alterations to the UK Environmental Protection Act. This could then give Britain’s scientists, farmers, plant breeders and animal breeders access to new gene-editing technologies.

The letter was sent on 7 May, before the House of Commons last debated the bill.

The UK is currently aligned with EU regulation on gene-editing technologies.

In a statement on the NFU website, Vice President Tom Bradshaw said he sees this amendment as an “opportunity that simply cannot be missed, to put the UK in a world-leading position to showcase sustainable climate-friendly farming.”

“Delivery of the prime minister’s wish to “liberate the bioscience sector” requires a regulatory system that is fit for purpose,” he said, referring to Boris Johnson’s pledge back in 2019.

“The cost of not taking this opportunity is the UK being unable to make use of a set of breeding tools that are already being shown to offer solutions to intractable problems,” Bradshaw added.

Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, a UK umbrella organisation which campaigns against GM technology, told that regulation is a “safeguard, not a ban, and it would be foolhardy to give new techniques with no history of safe use free rein in our food and on our farms”.

O’Neill added that “any change would create a barrier to trade with the EU and potentially cause chaos across the UK itself as agriculture is devolved and the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all take a more sceptical policy approach to GMOs than that favoured by Boris Johnson in Westminster.”

The UK Agriculture Bill is designed to provide the legislative framework for replacement agricultural support schemes post-Brexit. It is currently at a late stage in the parliamentary process, with the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords scheduled for 10 June.


05/18 World – USA: United States relaxes rules for biotech crops

A  change to U.S. regulation of biotech will exempt some gene-edited plants from government oversight. The new policy, published in the Federal Register, also calls for automatic approval of variations of established kinds of genetically modified (GM) crops, easing their path to market.

Industry groups are welcoming the new rule, whereas opponents are decrying the reduction of government oversight.

“The main good thing is that it will allow certain aspects of gene editing to move forward,” says Kent Bradford, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Davis. If researchers use gene editing to design a plant that could have been bred conventionally, the new plant will be exempt from regulation. But anything else—such as moving a gene between species or rewiring metabolism—will still require a regulatory review.

With this shift the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will now focus on new traits themselves rather than the technology used to create them, a change of approach that plant scientists have long wanted. Several reviews by the National Academy of Sciences have concluded that the risk that GM plants will become weeds is generally low, and that molecular tools typically don’t pose new risks compared with traditional plant breeding techniques.

Another change will make it easier to create minor variations of GM crops, such as tailoring them for different climates. Before, companies had to ask APHIS to evaluate the risk of any new GM crop they wished to commercialize, even if it had been altered in the same way as crops already approved. Now, APHIS won’t regulate new varieties of an already approved GM crop.

Most of the new changes will go into effect on 5 April 2021.


05/20 EU: NBT’s in the F2F strategy 

In the chapter entitled “Ensuring sustainable food production” and in a section devoted to plant health, the From Farm to Fork strategy proposed by the European Commission to adapt EU agriculture to the challenges of the Green Deal briefly discusses the contribution of new genomic techniques.  

“New innovative techniques, including biotechnology and the development of bio-based products, may play a role in increasing sustainability, provided they are safe for consumers and the environment while bringing benefits for society as a whole. They can also accelerate the process of reducing dependency on pesticides”. 

Then the strategy refers to the study that the Commission is carrying out in response to a request from Member States on the capacity of new genomic techniques to improve sustainability throughout the food supply chain.  

Notably the Research, Innovation, Technology and Investment chapter of the strategy does not specifically address support for genetic engineering. 


05/20 EU – Spain: Mazaly Aguilar (MEP, Spain): “Use the F2F strategy to change the legislation on NPBT’s

“The European Commission will shortly be presenting its “Farm to Fork” strategy. To be honest, I have few certainties and many doubts.

Environmental and related NGOs want to continue with ‘business as usual’, but their roadmap, broadly shared by the Commission, makes mistakes that could take a toll on the preservation of the environment and natural resources.

If farmers do not manage to make a profit from their ‘strategic’ activity, they will abandon it and this abandonment will lead to desertification, further fires and the inevitable rural exodus.

To meet the challenge of agricultural sustainability, innovation must be one of the key solutions promoted.

Through innovation, we can aim to provide farmers with the tools to make their production more profitable, competitive and environmentally friendly. Every year, active substances are banned, meaning that farmers will not be able to use them despite the absence of alternatives.

The solution is clear, either abandon it or move on to more expensive and more toxic products. The Commission cannot turn a blind eye to fundamental scientific issues such as biotechnology and new plant-breeding techniques.

I suggest that the Commission should use the strategy to provide a solution and an urgent change in legislation so that organisms obtained through new breeding techniques do not fall under the scope of the Genetically Modified Organisms Directive.”

Mazaly Aguilar (ES, ECR), Vice-Chair of Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development committee


05/29 World – Chile: Chile advances in breeding gene-edited crops that weather climate change 

After playing a key role in global genetically modified (GM) seed production for two decades, Chile is now leading the way in publicly developed gene-edited crops that address climate change impacts on local agriculture.

The trend was documented in a peer-review study published in the British magazine GM Crops & Food by Dr. Miguel Ángel Sánchez, executive director of ChileBio.

Chile currently exports GM corn, soybean and canola seeds, with the United States, Canada and South Africa its main clients. On the research side, a number of different cereal, vegetable and fruit crops are under field trials, including many developed through gene editing tools like CRISPR.