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Europe To Relax Regulation On GMO In A Move To Strengthen its Food Supply Chain

Yesterday, news broke that the European Commission adopted new measures including ones that would ease the regulation around new genomic techniques as the region strives to strengthen its food supply.

brown grain field

Hey there! Here's something interesting - Europe is changing its tune on GMOs. After decades of strict rules, they're now taking a fresh look at things. In 2021, the European Commission proposed new regulations that are friendlier to innovative gene-editing technologies.

The aim? Create a greener economy, use fewer pesticides, and allow science to help grow our food sustainably. They're even separating GMOs into two categories, giving a nod to nature-inspired techniques. But of course, change always stirs up debates. This write-up takes a deep dive into what sparked this change, what it means for Europe, and what the market thinks about it. Let's explore!

The Origins Of This Change

Europe has long been reputed for its stance against using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Indeed, since 2001, the region has adopted regulations restricting GMOs.

In Europe, regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is governed by a legal framework established primarily in the early 2000s. The main pieces of legislation are Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs and Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 on genetically modified food and feed. These laws provide a process for approving GMOs based on assessing risks to human health and the environment. They also require traceability and labeling of GMOs and establish a system for monitoring the effects of GMOs that have been placed on the market.

Then, in 2021, the commission proposed to review the regulation as it considered it unfit for its purpose and for the new gene editing technologies that were being introduced worldwide. Now, GMOs will be separated into two different categories, (1) those that derive from ‘naturally occurring techniques’, i.e., techniques that could be similar to traditional breeding between plants would be exempt from going through the process, and (2) New Gene Editing Techniques that are similar to GMOs which would still have to go through the process that is currently in place for all.

For the past year, the commission has strived to work on ensuring a greener economy by relying on fewer pesticides. Commenting on the announcement, the European Commission adds, “Today’s proposals will also boost innovation and sustainability by enabling the safe use of technical progress in new genomic techniques, to enable developing climate-resilient crops and reducing the use of chemical pesticides, and by ensuring more sustainable, high-quality and diverse seeds and reproductive material for plants and forests.”

This push is part of the European Green Deal, a vast program that vows to further the sustainability commitment of the region.

The Implications It Can Have For The Region & The Market

First of all, the European Commission acknowledged the potential impact its tights regulation has had in the development of the market. As stated in a recent study, "NGTs and their products have developed rapidly in the last two decades in many parts of the world, with some applications already on the market and more applications in different sectors expected in the coming years. This study confirms considerable interest in research on new genomic techniques in the EU, but most of the development is happening outside the EU. Which affected both private and public research and market development."

For the European Union, the proposal to ease the regulation opens up a large market left untouched by most companies in the past two decades. The current market for Genome Editing technologies was valued at around $1Bn in 2021, according to Business Market Insights. It was expected to grow at a CAGR of 18% before the proposal to ease the regulation. The proposal may accelerate the market progression, with some analysts expecting it to reach as much as $15Bn by 2027.

New techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 will have an easier process to enter a new product into the market.

As the Vice President of the European Commission states, the proposal will ease the market and enable farmers to access a new set of tools to fight the effects of climate change (Including droughts and new pests).

Cibus US LLC has stated that the proposal carries great significance and will have a wide impact on international policy alignment. Tony Moran, the Senior Vice President of International Development and Government Affairs at Cibus, is of the opinion that the legislative change will spur innovation in plant science, especially in academia and SMEs. This, in turn, will lead to a sustainable EU agri-food system with greater contributions from NGTs.

On the other side of the pond, activists from Greenpeace and other consumer protection NGOs have warned that this regulation should still meet the safety regulations to avoid any non-desired effects on the population. In addition, Politico mentioned that green lawmakers, environmental advocacy groups, organic and small farmers, and more than 400,000 EU citizens have signed a petition against deregulating what they call “new GMOs.”

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